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Nearly 10 minutes after the post-race press conference started, with the rest of the honorees and dignitaries already answering questions at a dais in a conference room at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel, Tejay van Garderen wheeled into the room on his bicycle.

It was the first time all week that van Garderen brought up the rear.

The 24-year-old American cyclist capped the eight-day, 729-mile Amgen Tour of California by finishing in the main peloton Sunday, garnering the same time as stage winner Peter Sagan of Cannondale and wrapping up a race title that almost looked easy. Nobody had won the Tour of California by more than 50 seconds in seven previous incarnations. Van Garderen finished 1 minute, 47 seconds ahead of second-place Michael Rogers of Saxo-Tinkoff. Javier Alexis Acevedo of Jamis-Hagens Berman was third, a distant 3:26 behind the winner.

"Everything just finally came together," said van Garderen, the youngest winner of this race. "I've known for years that I've been capable of riding like this, and to finally put it all into place, it's really special."

The biggest accomplishment of van Garderen's career was also a watershed moment for his team. While he was winning the individual general classification, BMC Racing was claiming the team general classification. For a squad based right here, there was no better way to finish the Tour of California than to ride into downtown Santa Rosa as a winner.

True, BMC is Swiss-owned, and the BMC cyclists are far-flung. They did not train here for the Amgen Tour, and van Garderen, for one, admitted that he didn't know the Sonoma County roads very well. Other BMC riders are more locally oriented, though, and chief operating officer Gavin Chilcott is a Santa Rosa native. The team has held training camps here in the past. BMC's offices are in Santa Rosa.

"This is our base, and I'm proud of it," BMC president Jim Ochowicz said.

It was BMC's third GC victory of the year, after the Tour of Argentina and the Tour of Oman.

For van Garderen, the outcome was pleasing, but hardly a surprise after his efforts leading up to the final run to Santa Rosa. He claimed the overall leader's yellow jersey on a ride from Santa Barbara to Avila Beach in Stage 5 on Thursday, pulled away in Friday's challenging time trial in San Jose and maintained his lead through an important climb up Mount Diablo in Stage 7 on Saturday.

Van Garderen went into Stage 8 with that 1:47 margin, a Secretariat-like lead for a stage considered relatively easy. Only a wreck or a flat tire could have jeopardized van Garderen, and he avoided such mishaps.

In a way, this victory seemed predetermined for a lot longer than a couple days. It wasn't clear exactly when or where it would happen, but van Garderen has been on the path to cycling stardom for years.

Born in Tacoma, Wash., and raised mostly in Bozeman, Mont., he raced against older kids from a young age and eventually won 10 junior national titles. Van Garderen went to Europe as an elite junior with the U.S. National Team at the age of 17.

"It was a sacrifice," van Garderen said. "I had to work a lot in school ahead of time so I could graduate a month early. ... And I had to give up my summer vacations going over to Europe to race a bike. It was an incredible learning experience in Europe with the culture shock, different food, different hotels, plus it's a different language, the roads are tiny."

Van Garderen, whose father was a Dutch immigrant, wound up riding with the Rabobank team and living with his aunt and uncle in the Netherlands. He officially turned pro in 2010.

It has been an upward trajectory ever since. Van Garderen took first place in a stage of the Vuelta de Espana in 2010, finished fifth in the Tour of California and wore the King of the Mountain jersey at the Tour de France in 2011, and took fifth overall in the Tour de France and second in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in 2012. Earlier this year, he finished fourth in the Paris-Nice race.

Still, Sunday's result takes van Garderen to another level.

"It's actually a big relief to finally get my first stage-race victory," he said. "I've been close on a number of occasions. I was actually starting to get worried that maybe I just didn't have what it took to win a stage race. And now I've proven that I can. I think I can go into every race now a little bit less stressed."

This was an event that hadn't always been kind to van Garderen. The 2007 Tour of California was his first major race, but he pulled out in Stage 4. In 2010, he fell back into the pack on Stage 2 when he stopped to offer his wheel to Michael Rogers, who was then his higher-ranking HTC-Columbia teammate. Rogers wound up winning that race; this year, the Australian spent the last few days chasing van Garderen.

"It was a tough race," Rogers said Sunday. "Tejay, I think, was in superb condition."

And he seems to be getting stronger and stronger, which has people wondering how high, and how quickly, this kid can climb. It is assumed that BMC will support Cadel Evans in the Tour de France this summer, asking van Garderen to assume a secondary role.

Van Garderen seems OK with that. But Sunday, someone asked him how long it will be before he's ready to win cycling's biggest race.

"Six weeks?" he said with a smile.

Van Garderen, and BMC, are riding with that kind of confidence.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.