Tejay van Garderen had been optimistic and upbeat about his form for the real mountains stages of the Tour de France and proved he can fight for a place on the podium with a long ride on the long climb to Chamrousse in the Alps.
Van Garderen finished fourth in Chamrousse and is now fifth overall. He is 5:19 behind Vincenzo Nibali after the Italian soared to a solo victory but he is only 55 seconds behind third placed Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), with whom he rode to the finish, while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is second overall but only 1:42 ahead.
"It was hard and I was worried about the heat because I've been known to struggle a little bit when it gets really hot, but it was a climb that suited me and so I just tried to stay in my rhythm," he said to the awaiting media after doping control and a UCI bike check.
Van Garderen finished one place ahead of Bardet after Nibali attacked with six kilometres to go, and only Valverde and Pinot were initially able to go with him. Van Gardern was strong and made several attacks before teaming up with Bardet to lead the chase. The duo lost 30 seconds to Pinot and Valverde but seemed to be their equal.
"Then the group behind was a bit too big and not everyone wanted to work together, so there were a lot of attacks to make it smaller so we started to pull them back," he explained, recalling the stage in detail.
"It ended up being me and Bardet together and we worked well together for a while but then I think he started playing a team tactic game because he had (Jean-Christophe) Peraud back there. But I was happy to pull him to the line as long as I was putting distance into the other guys."
"I still feel good"
Van Garderen still has bandages on his legs after his crashes earlier in the Tour but he confided that he is feeling better, which is in turn boosting his morale.
"I'm definitely recovering and growing some skin back. I felt good coming in and I feel like I'm getting back to my normal level," he said.
"I still feel good. I'm just going to focus on recovery tonight and I'm glad that the times are a bit more spread out, so it's not so nervous and so we can kind of relax a bit more."
He has a podium spot in his sights and knows that if he can hold Valvderde and Bardet within range for the remaining mountain stages, he can take advantage of the final 54km time trial.
"I'm going to keep chipping away," he promised.
"Hopefully I can stay strong and if I can get to that final time trial within distance, I think I have a real shot."
He faces a another tough stage in the Alps with Saturday's stage to Risoul including the legendary climbs of the Col du Lautaret and the Col d'Izoard before the climb to the line. But now he is clearly confident about he will ride.
"I'll be ready," he concluded.