LIEGE, Belgium -- BMC Racing's defense of the maillot jaune opened with the team taking the best young rider's jersey, thanks to the strong legs of Tejay van Garderen.
Van Garderen, 23, torched the prologue on the opening day of the Tour de France -- his second -- on a blustery Saturday afternoon in Liége, finishing just 10 seconds off the winning time set down by RadioShack-Nissan's Fabian Cancellara. He finished fourth and was the best-placed young rider, just one second up on Team Sky's Edvald Boassan Hagen, also in the white-jersey competition.
"It was crazy, just the adrenalin rush of being in the Tour. This is the start of three weeks. It's an incredible feeling. I got chills," he told reporters at the finish line just before receiving the white jersey given to the Tour's best placed young rider.
Van Garderen rode the technical prologue course smoothly, an impressive feat given its bends, winds and brief sections of cobbles. Many riders, such as Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) suffered technical lapses and lost time.
For van Garderen, the fourth-place finish is a validation of his arrival as not just a strong young rider, but a strong rider, period.
"I gave it my all and I am happy with my performance. I am learning a lot from Cadel (Evans). Being a GC-style rider myself, I can learn a lot by helping, so hopefully in a few years' time, he can pass on the torch."
The Bozeman, Montana, native's 2012 results include a fourth on GC at the Amgen Tour of California and fifth at Paris-Nice.
"Normally I have a good prologue, so I wanted to give it a go," he said. "(The white jersey) is not a team goal. We come here with the top goal of putting Cadel on the podium, but anything can happen."
Riding for Cadel
Van Garderen will be called upon to shepherd Evans through the high mountains of this Tour, of which there are plenty. La Planche des Belles Filles (5.9km at 8.5 percent average), the Col du Grand Colombier (17.4km at 7.1 percent), the Col du Tourmalet (19km at 7.4 percent), and the Col de la Croix-de-Fer (22.4km at 6.9 percent) can all lend shape to the race. It's van Garderen's job to be the last teammate with Evans, and something he's been looking forward to all season.
"That's what I've been training for, and expecting of myself. I'll do my best," van Garderen told VeloNews. "If I can be there, with Cadel up through the last climb, then that will be a success for me. If can Cadel can come to Paris in yellow, that's a success for me, him, the whole team."
There is a feeling at BMC that anything other than a Tour defense would be a failure, fair or not. This is a team that lines up with a singular mission -- don't expect them to try to win stages, unless Philippe Gilbert has the legs for a late-race attack -- and isn't carrying anyone for the sprints.
This last may be the team's only definitive advantage over Team Sky, which will still try for Mark Cavendish, in addition to the general-classification pursuits of leader Bradley Wiggins, who showed he was razor sharp, nearly winning the prologue and putting nine seconds into Evans.
"Right now, we haven't really thought of the possibility of losing the Tour. The thing is, a podium in the Tour is still huge. But we haven't really given that any consideration. We're firmly set on winning this Tour de France," van Garderen said.
The American said the team is aware of the pressure to defend yet remains relaxed.
"I've actually been shocked at how relaxed it's been," he said. "We have dinner every night, Cadel is joking, and someone will set a bottle of wine on the table. And we'll drink half of a bottle between nine guys."
Asked if Evans can best the Briton, who has displayed staggering form this season by thoroughly controlling Paris-Nice, Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour of Romandie, van Garderen likened the 2012 Tour to a boxing match.
"He can beat him. I have this comparison, where it's kind of like the boxer and the fighter. I keep thinking of 'Rocky IV.'
"Wiggins, he's like the boxer. He has all these wires and numbers and gadgets. And he has people looking after him, and everything is so scientific with him. But then, Cadel, he just rides hard and fights like no one I've ever seen. He can suffer more than anyone I've ever seen.
"It's like Rocky versus Ivan Drago. Rocky still wins."