After a hugely encouraging display on the summit finish at Pra Loup the previous day, things didn’t go quite as smoothly for Tejay van Garderen (BMC) on an action-packed, and drenched, stage 6 of the Critérium du Dauphiné on Friday.
The American moved into the overall lead on Thursday at Pra Loup, where he managed to drop Chris Froome (Team Sky) and others, finishing second only to Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale). But he was unable to protect the yellow jersey on the 183-kilometre route from Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur to Villard-de-Lans as a move formed by Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) stayed well clear to the finish.
Van Garderen, along with his BMC teammates, tried to lead the chase in an increasingly uncoordinated and fragmented peloton but, in the end, finished 2:14 back on stage winner Costa, which pushed him down to fifth on GC, and 42 seconds off new leader Nibali.
"It was a rainy day, it was up and down and really technical - so it was just the perfect storm," van Garderen said. "Any stage hunter was going to be looking at today for a breakaway. Everybody knew the breakaway had a good chance to win, so that meant everyone wanted to be in it. That meant the guys who got in it were really strong."
With six categorised climbs in store, the race was on from the start and the peloton was soon thinned by a flurry of attacks. With so many moves coming and going, it was a stressful day for van Garderen, who admitted he couldn’t keep up with it all. Besides, after two days of protecting Rohan Dennis’ race lead, the BMC support was relatively thin on the ground, Dennis and Dylan Teuns did the bulk of the work on the front.
"I knew I couldn't mark everyone so I picked Chris Froome and Romain Bardet," said the 26-year-old. "Every single one of those guys [in the break] was at two minutes and every single one of those guys has a huge pedigree in the sport. If I follow everything, I blow up.
"I really have to give a big shout out to those two guys [Dennis and Teuns]. They were just incredible today. Sadly, we were just a little bit isolated. When guys like Nibali and Valvderde get up the road, it is really tough to bring them back."
With two stages to go - both featuring summit finishes - van Garderen insists he is still feeling good and, at less than a minute behind, is confident he can still challenge for the overall win. Now without the burden of the yellow jersey on his shoulders, the two-time fifth-place finisher at the Tour de France can approach the climax of the race with more freedom.
"I am motivated," he said. "Valverde and Nibali were both dropped yesterday on Pra-Loup. So maybe this is more of a blessing in disguise that we do not have the jersey and we do not have to defend. Maybe Astana can waste some of their bullets early on in the stage. If I have the legs on the last climb, 42 seconds isn't much."