The American pulled out of the race on the road to Pra Loup, with a respiratory infection the main cause. He had been sitting third overall coming into the stage but lost contact on the first climb and despite a brief rally was forced to call it quits.
“I had been fighting this chest cold for a few days, took some antibiotics and thought that if I could get to the rest day then I would be fine but during the rest day I ran a little bit of a fever. It wasn’t huge, around 99.5. I though that if could get some food down, get a good night’s sleep and wake up the next morning then I could be okay,’ van Garderen said, reaffirming the news that he initially picked up the infection on stage 13 of the race.
Van Garderen has based his entire season on the Tour de France having finished fifth last year. He came into this year’s edition in arguably the form of his life and navigated through the first week with his GC prospects intact. The Pyrenees proved a tough challenge but the American emerged third overall behind Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana with Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador just behind him.
However, the rest day offered little recovery time and when he started stage 17 he knew that the game was up.
“When I got out there the legs weren’t working. That just happens in the third week of a Grand Tour and I thought I could ride through it. I joust couldn’t do that yesterday. Maybe I could have lost a minute on the final climb but to lose time on the first climb, that was something more acute and hugely disappointing.
“It’s the Tour de France and it’s what you work all year for. At the time I thought that it was just a bad dream and that I would wake up and pin my number on. The hardest part was when I was getting in the bus. I got there before my teammates and I was sitting there and decompressing and thinking ‘okay that just happened’ but when my teammates came on the bus and I had to look them in the eye, that just killed me.
“They were feeling bad for me but I was just thinking about all the kilometres they’d pulled in the wind for me and what they sacrificed for me. Next year they said they would do the same again.”
Van Garderen will now head back to his European base in Nice, France, before building up for the second half of the season. He and the BMC Racing team management have made no plans for coming months with regards to a possible change in race programme. It leaves the door for a ride in the Vuelta a España open with the Worlds in Richmond, America, another target.
“I’m not sure what’s next. I’m heading back to the apartment in Nice. My wife is coming and Jim Ochowicz is actually driving me back. I’ll then learn more about what my upcoming programme is and where we go from here. It’s all still pretty new and we still need to make a plan.”