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Tejay van Garderen shows grit and determination on stage 10
American hopeful about podium possibilities during first rest day
After 10 days of hard racing, van Garderen and his seven-remaining BMC teammates - Colombian John Darwin Atapuma was forced to retire on stage 7 after a crash left him with a broken leg - were taking advantage of the Tour's first rest day to recharge, take stock and plan ahead. The 25-year-old sits in seventh place overall, 3:56 down on race leader Vincenzo Nibali.
"You see a lot of guys who are strong in the first week and then start to fade in the third week," van Garderen said. "I think that if I can just stay consistent, then maybe I can move up a couple of places and... you never know!"
Indeed, you never do know, and this year's Tour has already seen both defending champion Chris Froome (Sky) and two-time winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) crash out. There's nothing to say that Nibali couldn't go the same way, too, which would blow the race entirely open, with less than two minutes separating Sky's Richie Porte, in second place, 2:23 behind Nibali, and 11th-placed Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol), 4:18 down on the Italian race leader.
But van Garderen can't see Nibali crashing out any time soon.
"Anyone can crash, but I don't expect him to - and neither would I want him to, of course - as he's one of the most incredible bike handlers I've ever seen," said van Garderen. "He's almost like [renowned skilful bike-handler] Peter Sagan in that respect, and can do things that most riders can't. If Nibali gets himself into a bad situation, in which 99 per cent of us would go down, he seems to be able to get out of it."
Van Garderen also points to the fact that holding the yellow jersey contributes to staying safe as well, allowing Nibali to move around the peloton with an extra level of respect from the other riders, allowing him to position himself near the front of the race, "which tends to help keep you out of trouble, too".
The American has had his fair share of crashes already, losing just over a minute on stage seven, but then riding himself back into podium contention on the 10th stage to La Planche des Belles Filles on Monday, finishing in sixth place, just 22 seconds down on stage winner Nibali.
"Crashes are just part of the sport, and sometimes they're just unavoidable," van Garderen said. "Sometimes you get up and are like, 'Man, that was stupid!' I mean, just about all of my crashes were pretty much unavoidable. That one on stage seven is the only big one I've had so far, though. That one was quite painful."
Van Garderen said that he was still feeling "a little banged up", with the evidence clear on his legs and hands as he lounged in the hotel bar in his BMC-issue leisure wear.
"But the Tour's always a dangerous race - the most dangerous race of the year," he said. "This is my fourth Tour now, and at every Tour I've done there have been some nasty crashes, so I don't think this year's really any different to any other year."
What certainly is different is the success that French riders have enjoyed so far, with a victory from Ag2r's Blel Kadri on stage eight, and four Frenchman currently sitting the top eight overall.
But with the race soon heading into "real" climbers' territory - into the Alps and the Pyrenees, where van Garderen will start to feel even more at home - it remains to be seen how much longer that French success will last.
"There's a group of French guys who are looking really strong," van Garderen said. "They've been really impressive so far.
"I think Thibaut Pinot [sixth overall] will be just fine, as he's already been top 10 in the Tour and the Vuelta, and is looking really strong right now, so I see him being able to hang on," said the American. "Jean-Christophe Peraud [Ag2r; eighth overall] is a solid rider, who's older and smarter, and knows what his limits are, but the one question mark for me is Romain Bardet [Peraud's teammate; fourth overall]. Obviously he's a great bike rider, a super talent, and he could very well hang on, but he's the one I don't know as much about."
Former yellow-jersey-wearer Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol), meanwhile, is likely to drop steadily away from his fifth place overall, put to work instead in the service of overall contender Van Den Broeck and the Lotto-Belisol team's sprinter - and winner of stage 6 - André Greipel as the race goes on.
And if Gallopin - or any of his compatriots - begin to fall down the overall classification, watch for van Garderen to take their place.