Not terribly long ago, we looked into the plan by BMC to share Tour de France leadership between perpetual American captain/Tour hopeful Tejay van Garderen and his newly imported Aussie teammate and one-week stage race killer Richie Porte. The focus then was on describing what exactly it was. And now, as the Tour de France approaches, we can ask: does it have any chance of working?
Last week we watched (some of us in horror) as van Garderen came undone on yet another miserable weather day in the Swiss Alps, dropping 6.22 on the Tour de Suisse stage to Amden, nearly two minutes behind his GC rivals. A day later, things cleared up just enough for van Garderen to win the Queen Stage to Solden, and while it didn't vault him back into contention for the Tour de Suisse, it did rescue his plummeting stock for the Tour de France. This a week after Porte looked frisky at the Criterium du Dauphine, where he alone shadowed Chris Froome to the summit finish in Vaujany. This put him fourth overall on GC in a race decided by mere dozens of seconds.
For company, Porte and van Garderen will have Brent Bookwalter, Damiano Caruso, Rohan Dennis, Amiel Moinard, Ben Hermans, Greg Van Avermaet, and one more (Phinney??). But most importantly, they will have each other. Will it work?
The answer is really no clearer than ever. As a tandem, the two raced together only once, at the Volta a Catalunya, and finished fourth and fifth on GC, more or less riding together each day. Given how Tour-focused van Garderen is, it's hard to read much of anything into early results, and while Porte has often gone after one-week stage races in the past, while riding for Sky as a plan B and domestique, his role with BMC is different. Anyway, they have been a team on the road, for one week, and if you can take anything from it beyond "they didn't have any obvious problems," I'm all ears.
Forecasting a bit, both riders look pretty good, all things considered. But translating that into action is the issue. Van Garderen has twice finished fifth overall at the Tour, once against a depleted 2014 field and once in a more beefy 2012 race. If there's something of a pattern to his Tour prospects in even-numbered years, then I need not remind you that it's 2016. Problem solved! Erm... maybe. Porte, on the other hand, has never entered the Tour as a team captain, and only once inherited the mantle -- in 2014 -- with disastrous results. Still, translating from those efforts to what he's asked to do now is an exercise in futility. The bottom line is, both riders are prone to bad days but are otherwise in the conversation for guys you would usually expect to see up there otherwise.
If I were to look on the bright side -- and this is very insidery, and I'm not actually on the inside, so take it with much salt -- I would say that the psychological effect of buffering each other will be a positive one. Maybe Tejay can think, if Porte is up there jumping after Froome and Quintana, I can grind away and do my thing, while Porte thinks, if Tejay is going to keep grinding his way along, maybe I can afford to jump on Froomey's wheel. Maybe their strengths will not only compliment each other, but give each other added confidence in the justness of doing what each does best. That's a thing, right? It can't hurt, for sure, unless they are sitting 1-2 on GC and have to sort out who wins the Tour. And yeah, I don't know if we need to go there just yet.
The reality for BMC is that there are a number of riders who have shown more consistency across three weeks of the Tour, like Contador, Froome, Valverde, Nibali, Quintana, and Pinot to name a few. There are dynamic riders like Bardet and Aru set to throw their hats into the ring. [Bardet has ridden two Tours, so far topping out at sixth.] If Tejay and Porte race to their very best potential, they'll still be lucky to put even one rider on the podium. My guess is that BMC do a very nice job of hanging around at the front of this Tour, but in the end there's only one strongest rider, and he almost certainly rides for someone else.