Tejay van Garderen (BMC) was forced to abandon the Tour de France during stage 17 while sitting in third place overall on Wednesday. The American cited a lingering illness, which was picked up four days earlier during stage 13, for the reason he struggled through the 161km stage from Digne-les-Bains to Pra-Loup, and eventually pulled out of the race on the Col de la Colle.
“I was fighting a little bit of a cold that I had picked up after stage 13, that day with the really intense heat, and for a while I was fine with the sniffles and not a big deal,” van Garderen said after the stage in a team audio recording. “It started getting a bit worse and on the rest day I was having some feverish symptoms and chills.
“I woke up in the morning today and I felt like the worst of it was on the rest day, and I had given my body a chance to recover. I felt hopeful and optimistic and I had a good night sleep and I felt ready to race, I felt closer to normal. But once I got out there, my muscles had no energy and I couldn’t push.
“Straight away from the start, I knew this wasn’t good, and hopefully I could just hide and ride into it for a few kilometres and I would feel better but those sensations never came. Oh man, it is hugely disappointing.
At the start of stage 17, van Garderen was third place overall, 3:32 behind race leader Chris Froome (Sky) and just 22 seconds behind Movistar's Nairo Quintana. BMC Racing looked set to defend a top-three overall through the final stages in the Alps, and into Paris.
Asked if this was the most terrible day in his racing career to date, van Garderen said, “Yes, absolutely. To be fighting for a podium in the Tour de France and then the next day you are sitting in a car, it was hard. It was hard to look my teammates in the eyes, hard to call my wife and explain to her what was going on. It was a lot of emotions. It almost feels like I want to just disappear right now.”
Testa confirms van Garderen has a respiratory infection
At the finish line in Pra-Loup, members of the press waited in the rain outside for a statement from BMC Racing about van Garderen’s health. The team’s physician, Dr. Max Testa, emerged from a team vehicle and confirmed that van Garderen was suffering from a respiratory infection.
“You saw what happened, basically from the beginning he didn’t feel good, he was developing a headache and couldn’t push the pedals, and develop any power,” Testa said.
“He has been fighting a respiratory infection since stage 13 and was able to manage it for a few days. We were hoping with the rest day he would have gone over the edge but I think today it was very hard from the start and the fatigue from the previous days cost him the race. I didn’t see this coming, I was hoping he was over the worse part. This morning he was feeling pretty good, not 100 per cent but upwards from the days before.
“Now, he is clearly shocked as he had to give up the race so now it’s more a psychological thing, physically now he is ok.”
Manager of BMC Racing, Jim Ochowicz, expressed his disappointment in losing van Garderen while he was in third-place overall so close to the end of the Tour de France. However, he remained optimistic that his team would find a way to refocus and turn their objectives toward stage wins for the remaining four stages.
“It’s sport, it happens in every sport. We lost our GC contender for the podium so that means we have to refocus tonight and set some new goals for tomorrow and the rest of the Tour. There are still four big days of the Tour de France lying ahead of us. We are not going away, we are going to be picking for something new so we’ll carry on to Paris.”
Van Garderen, twice fifth overall at the Tour de France, came into the race this year with clear ambitions to stand on the podium. BMC had a winning start with Rohan Dennis in the opening time trial, and van Garderen moved into third place overall during stage 3 in Huy.
He moved up into second overall following the team’s win in the team time trial on stage 9 in Plumelec but slipped back into third place overall during stage 14 to Mende. Despite wrestling with what he thought was a cold, he felt confident that he could fight for a final podium position through the Alps.
“It’s a lot for anybody to take on their shoulders and he’s disappointed, he’d like to finish the Tour,” Ochowicz said. “The team worked hard for him for two weeks now so he has a lot of pressure on his shoulders right now, I know he’s feeling the pain but he’s a professional athlete and he understands you win and lose. He’ll bounce back form this.
“I think we started the stage thinking we’d be ok. Not knowing exactly what the situation was, like most people, I was just watching TV, I was struggling to find out what was going on. Phone reception wasn’t great so we weren’t able to have a long conversation about anything, less even try and get a hold of someone.
"I feel bad for Tejay, I feel bad for the team. We’ve raced hard up to this point. We start over again tomorrow, four big days left in the Tour and we still have goals to win a stage.”