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Big expectations for van Garderen

Tejay van Garderen enters the Tour de France as BMC Racing's captain and is looking for big things. AP Photo/Christophe Ena

LEEDS, England (VN) -- An older, wiser Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) confronts the 2014 Tour de France with new responsibilities and new maturity.

With 2011 Tour winner Cadel Evans easing out of the BMC leadership role, the 25-year-old van Garderen steps into the captaincy this year with realistic expectations about what's in store for the Tour.

"Based on past results, I've earned the right to be the leader," van Garderen said Thursday in a news conference. "This is a stepping-stone for other Tours. I am learning how to be a good leader. I am hoping to make a good showing, and we can tweak a few things. One year I am hoping I can win the Tour de France."

Fifth overall in at the Tour in 2012, van Garderen rode as a protected co-leader with Evans over the past two Tours. BMC management made the call last fall to designate van Garderen as the outright leader this year, sending Evans to the Giro d'Italia instead.

"I am honored that the team has shown the faith in me to lead the team," van Garderen said. "It's comforting to know the guys have my back."

On the eve of his fourth Tour start, van Garderen realizes this is his moment, a quest to win the Tour and the first of what he hopes will be many as BMC's captain.

The Colorado native is driven to prove his 2012 performance was no fluke, but he also realizes the Tour is a beast unlike any other. His preparation has not been ideal, including a crash at the Tour de Romandie, but van Garderen said he's riding into the Tour healthy, strong and motivated.

"There are some nerves, and some excitement as well. There's a bit of confidence, but also some modesty," he said. "I am not expecting to ride out of my skin, and drop [defending champion] Chris Froome in the first mountain stages. I don't expect miracles. If I can stay consistent, calm and ride within myself, I think I can ride really high into Paris."

How far? He refuses to pin a number on it.

"Every year is different; 2012 was a special year, and I'd be happy with a repeat of [fifth]. I want to prove to myself and to the team that I can stack up for three hard weeks of racing, that I can be a grand-tour rider," van Garderen said. "If I say I want to be on the podium and I get fourth, that would be a disappointment. I am not going to say that. I just want to see how far I can go."

BMC brings solid support for van Garderen on all terrain. The squad includes four experienced, classics-type riders to protect him through the first half of the Tour: Marcus Burghardt, Daniel Oss, Michael Schar and Greg Van Avermaet. For the mountains, van Garderen can count on Peter Velits, Darwin Atapuma, Amael Moinard and compatriot Peter Stetina, who is making his Tour debut.

Van Garderen admits he's had to learn how to deal with the pressure that comes with being a high-profile rider in the peloton. As a neo-pro, a bad ride following some encouraging performances largely goes unnoticed. That changes as the stakes are raised.

"The most difficult part of the evolution [as a grand-tour rider] is to learn to deal with the pressure, to be able to realize that 'pressure' is something that is just made up," he said. "Once your name gets out there a bit, they start noticing when you have a bad race, and it becomes a bigger deal.

"I've learned how to balance that, because at the end of the day, you've just got to focus on yourself. The legs you have in the final 2 kilometers of the climb, that's what really matters."