Tour of California stage 4 – Race debrief

Van Garderen wins the time trial and takes the overall lead

Race: Amgen Tour of California stage 4 (ITT) (WorldTour)
Date: May 16, 2018
Distance: 34.7km
Weather: Partly sunny and warm

Podium: 1st Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing)
2nd Patrick Bevin (BMC Racing)
3rd Tao Geoghegan Hart (Team Sky)

Winner's quote: "It feels incredible. It's been five years since I was last at the Tour of California. It was my first major GC victory as a professional, so obviously I have great memories. Last time I came here I was a new father, and today I was able to bring back my little girls on the stage. Now I have two. Everyone got to see my little girl five years later. It's an incredible feeling and an incredible experience, and I'm definitely going to savour it."

Critical point: The second half of the 34.7km loop was flatter, more exposed and windier than the first half, but van Garderen made serious inroads on his competitors over this section. Van Garderen was three seconds down on Bevin at the last checkpoint, but gained 10 seconds in the closing stages to beat his teammate by seven seconds and put 1:23 into Egan Bernal (Team Sky), taking the overall lead from the young Colombian by 23 seconds.

Unsung hero: Bevin got his time in the hot seat and his laurels for taking second place, but the service he provided to van Garderen was invaluable on an entirely different level. Bevin started 40 minutes before his team leader and set the fastest time of the day to that point, laying down a series of time splits that van Garderen tried to match or better, and in doing so set the fastest time of the day.

"Unlucky for Paddy that I was getting all of his splits," van Garderen said. "That was mainly the information I was getting. I was the first of the big GC wave to go, so I wasn't really able to gauge anything from my rivals, so I was really gauging it from Paddy."

Unluckiest rider: Rally Cycling's Brandon McNulty, the 2016 junior time trial champion who was runner-up in the U23 Worlds last year, started the day with high hopes of putting in a top performance and moving into the top 10 on GC. McNulty accomplished the second goal despite suffering a front-wheel puncture on a technical downhill section of the course. McNulty stayed upright when a lesser rider may have fallen, but he lost 30 to 40 seconds getting a new bike from the team car. McNulty finished 24th, 1:43 behind van Garderen, but he very likely could have finished inside the top 10 on the stage without the mishap.

"You can't afford to have a flat in a time trial, and especially not where he had it," said Rally performance director Jonas Carney. "It's a really bad spot on the course to have a puncture. If it had been on a different part of the course, either flat or uphill, it wouldn't have cost him as much. But that location was a really bad spot – not only dangerous, but it took him a long time to come to a stop. It's just unfortunate.

Talking point: There's always a lot of talk around van Garderen. The 29-year-old's two top-five finishes at the 2012 and 2014 Tours de France raised the expectations around him greatly, and, fair or not, he has so far not lived up to that Grand Tour hype. Clouds began to form when he failed to finish the Tour or the Vuelta a España in 2015, was 29th in the 2016 Tour and failed to finish the Vuelta that year. BMC have been patient with the rider as he fights his way back, and last year he finished 20th in the Giro and 10th in the Vuelta. Earlier this year, BMC Racing General Manager Jim Ochowicz said van Garderen would win a WorldTour race before going on to the Tour to ride for Richie Porte, and despite California not being on his original schedule, on Wednesday he took a major step toward making Ochowicz's prediction a reality.

Expert says: "I hate to say it, but I was a little bit surprised that Tejay beat Paddy," said BMC directeur sportif Jackson Stewart. "I really thought this was right up Paddy's alley, and that maybe a more rolling course would have suited Tejay better. Maybe that was just my ignorance. But they were pretty par to par out there. We had a lot of splits from Paddy already and we were comparing them with Tejay, and he was going up and down, and not just by a few seconds. On that last bit, on the flat where I thought Paddy would have some advantage, he just kept taking time out of Paddy, and Tejay ended up going seven seconds faster. I though today would be Paddy's stage and Tejay would move onto the podium, and I was hoping he would move into the jersey. He was thinking differently than me: he was going to take the stage and the jersey. It was a super, super ride from everybody, actually. 

"I didn't know Bernal. I just knew he was the Colombian time trial champion, and I knew he had a great uphill time trial in Romandie. I didn't dig very much more in the results or look at much. We thought we could take 50 seconds on him just from our calculations, which were not super-accurate, and we obviously took a lot more. I didn't know which way to think. I thought for sure we were going to come a lot closer to him. If we were going to pass him at a minute, I thought that would be tough.

"When we were on the climb [on stage 2], we thought, 'Look, limit Bernal's advantage over Tejay to 45 seconds and then we can get this back.' And then Bernal got the bonus seconds on the climb [at the stage finish], which frustrates me. If we have bonuses on a climbing stage, why don't we have bonuses here on a TT stage? But whatever; I think Tejay surprised everyone today."

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