American talent Tejay van Garderen is hopeful of taking his maiden professional win at Paris-Nice, which starts on Sunday.
"I have really good form - I showed that at Algarve a little bit - and it's only gotten better since then. I'm going into it with a lot of confidence and I just need to stay by my team and always be focused," he told Cycling Weekly.
Van Garderen placed second in the Tour of the Algarve to teammate Tony Martin last week, and feels that between them, the pair will get a result for HTC-Columbia.
Nevertheless, the 22 year old is under no illusions as to the difficulty of the traditional early season markstick. "I feel at a bit of a disadvantage having never raced it before, but that's all part of the learning process.
"It's not one of those races, like in Spain, where you can stay relaxed, at the back and work your way to the front whenever you feel like it. It's one of those races where you have to stay at the front the whole time."
The 27km stage six time trial may further play into his hands. Van Garderen is enthused about what he perceives to be a general return to races against the clock in this year's calendar.
"I only did five individual time trials - not prologues or TTTs - last year: in the Algarve, California, the Dauphine, the Vuelta and the world championships. It seems like time-trialling has been suppressed a little bit, maybe because they don't like the technology that's going into it or whatever. But this season it's coming back a little, and I'm really glad."
In just fourteen months as a professional, van Garderen has already taken several impressive and consistent stage racing results, most notably third in last year's Dauphine and second at the Tour of Turkey. The only thing missing from his growing palmares is a first place finish - and on current form, he's a real dark horse for Paris-Nice.
van Garderen already feels like he's stepped up a gear in 2011. "I think the biggest thing is that I'm actually racing for the win now and not up there for the placings," he said.
"Take the stage up the Malhao climb at the Algarve: last year, Contador went up the road, so did Machado and Leipheimer for Radioshack. And all I was doing was setting my own pace, grinding, trying not to lose time."
"This year was diffierent. Now, it seems like I can handle a little bit more of a workload beforehand and be fresher for the climb. When people attack, I can respond and attack myself, then I'm in it for the sprint. The fact that I'm able to race for the win - even if I misjudged the sprint [Steve Cummings pipped him to victory] - means that I'm closer to it than I was before."
Paris-Nice starts on Sunday with a 154.5km opening stage around Houdun.
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