Van Garderen was born in Tacoma, Washington, but spent most of his childhood in Bozeman, Montana. His father is Dutch and he speaks the Dutch language quite well. He began riding at 10. By 14, he nearly beat two hours at the Mount Evans Hill Climb, a 28-mile climb gaining nearly 7,000 feet. He won 10 junior national titles in road (road race, criterium and TT) and cyclo-cross.