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Someone to believe in. That's what professional cycling needs. Someone to believe in without hesitation, to applaud beyond a shadow of a doubt. Someone to lift the sport above the rubble of the 2012 drug disclosures. Someone with a future who doesn't have the USADA hounds nipping at his backside. Someone like Tejay van Garderen.

Van Garderen won the 2013 Tour of California Sunday and if there is a prototype for The Next Face Of Cycling, the 24-year old from Bozeman, Mont., offers the entire package.

The sport needs someone who is talented.

"Most important is his physical capabilities," said van Garderen's boss, BMC team manager Jim Ochowicz. "Tejay has all those ingredients. He can climb. He can time trial. He is not intimidated in the flats when he is challenged."

The sport needs someone who has a view beyond his nose.

On the podium Sunday van Garderen held his five-week old baby girl, Rylan.

"I'm showing her off because I am supporting a charitable baby clothes organization," van Garderen said. "Go to bumsies.org."

The sport needs someone who dares not to repeat cycling's past.

"Cycling has done a great job of cleaning itself up," van Garderen said. "And it's our (young riders) responsibility to keep it that way."

The sport needs someone not afraid to be a leader.

"Sometimes it can be hard or intimidating to tell someone a lot older than you, who is a World Champion, to take the lead in a race, to run up front for the team," van Garderen said. "But I'm getting better at it."

Van Garderen is referring to BMC teammate Thor Hushovd, 35, a 14-time stage winner in the Classics, including 10 stages at the Tour de France.

OK, so van Garderen is still working on being the leader. Fact is, as the sport searches for a kinder, gentler, more compassionate face than Lance Armstrong to lead it, a 24-year old on the cusp of a potentially memorable career need not have all the elements.

Just the most important one.

Drugs not good. Drugs bad.

"The sport has pounded that message into the riders," said Jim Birrell, race director.

The pounding, nor the frequency of it, can not be undervalued. Pro cycling has acquired, and rightfully so, the reputation as the dirtiest sport on the planet. If all the dirty laundry of baseball and football were to be aired, cycling might find itself in third place. But the USADA hammer of 2012 made a colossal sound that vibrates still. The topic of doping in the 2013 Tour of California was not widely discussed, barely mentioned and, in one case, the reporter was asked not to bring it up in a rider interview.

The reticence is understandable but, sadly, doping will be the elephant in the room and it won't go away just because the people in the sport want it gone. No one connected with the sport has never known a time in which cycling was clean. That's the heavy air over van Garderen and his pals. Be a role model on and off the bike. That's a lot to ask. At least from outward appearances, van Garderen appears up to the task.

"He's genuine," Birrell said. "He is not only physically capable but mentally capable."

A rider can only remain strong of body if he is strong of mind. Resist a charge on the breakaway and resist the temptation of spiking the blood. Reject, in fact, the temptation of both. Van Garderen appears to be able to do both.

"Tejay has a great mentor in Cadel Evans," Ochowicz said.

Evans, an Aussie, won the Tour de France in 2011 and finished second two other times. Evans has been schooling van Garderen on what it takes to become an elite cyclist. Evans has never tested positive for drugs which lends credibility to the education he is providing van Garderen.

Van Garderen is most definitely tracking his way to the top. In 2010 van Garderen was 28th at the Tour of California. In 2011 he was fifth. Last year he was fourth. This year he won California, the first stage-race victory of his career. At the Tour de France in 2011 van Garderen was 82nd. Last year he was fifth. "Either this year or next year" was the way Ochowicz put it when asked how soon van Garderen would climb to the top of the cycling heap.

"We're not talking about the next few races or the next few years," Ochowicz said. "We're talking about the next 10 years."

That's the vision van Garderen has created. He's to be a major player in the sport. He can be the representative we all wished Lance Armstrong could have been. Successful but not a bully. A winner we could trust. A winner we wanted to trust. Now we want a guy we can trust. Someone we can look at and not cross our fingers and hope we never hear any whispers. No sport needs to be clean any more than cycling.

"I like what I see," said Ochowicz of van Garderen. "I believe in Tejay. I believe in the future of cycling."

I believe Ochowicz believes what he said.

So now we wait to see what happens. To see if we can go through an entire racing season without seeing big names dropping like so many orchard apples in the fall. Can it happen?

"I hope so," Birrell said.

And that's van Garderen's job. He's someone to believe in. He didn't ask for the job but he's got it anyway.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.