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RENNES, France (Reuters) - After a treacherous week of racing on the Tour de France, Tejay van Garderen is still flying under the radar but the American is definitely in the mix.
Having avoided the pitfalls that befell other riders in the nervous early stages, Van Garderen is third overall, 13 seconds behind Britain's yellow jersey holder Chris Froome of Team Sky.
"It's a perfect start to the Tour," his BMC Racing sports director Yvon Ledanois told Reuters ahead of Saturday's eighth stage, a 181.5-km ride to Mur de Bretagne.
"It was the start we were dreaming about but it's not over, far form over -- but we had a good first week."
The 26-year-old Van Garderen, fifth on the Tour in 2012 and 2014, showed with a convincing second place overall at the Criterium du Dauphine that he had what it takes to reach the next level and he gained confidence from that performance.
"The Dauphine helped him reach a new level - last year it was new for him, being a leader," said Ledanois.
"He's (team) leader on the Tour, he's second at the Dauphine where it was close with (Chris) Froome, he realized that Froome is not unbeatable. Psychologically it was important."
At the Dauphine, Van Garderen lost to Froome after the Briton won the final two stages with late attacks in the final climb. The gaps, however, were minimal.
"It shows that if there's a day when Froome is not super Froome and we're feeling good we can try something," said Ledanois.
Van Garderen is ahead of Spain's Alberto Contador, Italian defending champion Vincenzo Nibali and Colombia's Nairo Quintana, yet he is rarely cited as a potential winner.
"It's fine with me and it makes me laugh," said Ledanois.
"It's good for us that the media are only talking about the Big Four (Froome, Alberto Contador, Nibali and Quintana). It's good that we're being forgotten."
Van Garderen could even head into the first rest day with the yellow jersey as BMC Racing are favorites for Sunday's 28-km team time trial between Vannes and Plumelec with an uphill finish.
"We're afraid of no one, we're the (team time trial) world champions, we've got the riders to win but other teams will be in the mix - (Quintana's) Movistar, I know it's a good course for them," Ledanois explained.
"I hope we will be in yellow tomorrow night, if we're not it will be disappointing."
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris