Two crashes in the final hour’s racing left Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) and his GC bid in the Vuelta a España teetering on the edge of disaster. But the American fought back tenaciously, suffered only minor injuries and stayed in the top four overall.
The first crash came after van Garderen managed to resist the blizzard of accelerations laid down by Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) on the final second category climb of the Puerto del Garbi. Van Garderen responded well, shadowing Chris Froome (Team Sky) as the Briton chased down Contador time after time.
"I felt great," the BMC team leader recounted later. "Obviously the pace was really hard, so I was on the limit. But when I looked back and saw the selection being made and I was part of it, I thought it was a good way to cement my spot on GC."
Disaster struck when van Garderen became entangled in a crash with Movistar's Carlos Betancur, in almost the same spot where two other riders had just gone down.
"It was a bumpy road. I must have just hit something and the hands slipped off the bars, and it all happened kind of fast," Van Garderen said. "I'd have to watch the video to really see how it happened, but I don't want to watch the video. It'll kind of be a mystery about how it did.
"I knew the [team] car was going to be back, so I had to get back on the bike I was on but it was damaged," he recounted. "But then I had a bike change and then when we were off the descent, I thought, 'Now it's time to go into damage control.'"
BMC sports director Yvon Ledanois lamented the team's bad luck.
"It was bad luck for us today, because Tejay was in the group with Contador," Ledanois said. "We spoke with him, said, 'Easy, Tejay.' He had good legs but then crashed with Betancur, and you can lose everything with a crash like that. We were behind, we changed his bike, and took it group by group, and we nearly caught Froome."
Van Garderen eventually just missed making the group behind the main favourites, losing 20 seconds to the Briton. That time loss came after a second crash, just beyond the 3km-to-go sign, when van Garderen skidded on a roundabout and went flying.
Fortunately, the American could quickly recover and the time losses were minimal on a day that, as Ledanois put it, could have spelled curtains for the American's options.
Overall, van Garderen dropped to fourth, 30 seconds down, but as he pointed out afterwards, "I mean, when you really think about it, over three weeks, nothing goes perfectly. It's more about how you deal with the not-perfect days and take advantage of the good days.
"I've shown I'm in good form. The injuries are pretty minor, the legs are good, morale's good. So we'll move forward and try to take advantage of any opportunity we get."