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Tejay Van Garderen continues to lead the young riders classification
Best young rider's jersey nearly a lock for American
The competition has been a two-horse race since stage 11 when Rein Taaramae lost 25 minues. Van Garderen is now holding a lead of 3:16 over the Frenchman, while the next best young rider, Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank) is over an hour behind.
In the final kick to the line on stage 17 to Peyragudes, Van Garderen lost contact with the overall race leader Bradley Wiggins and Pinot, but was not disappointed with his performance on the stage. "I was actually pretty happy with how I was riding out there," he said in a post-stage interview with NBC. "The leaders were far above everyone else, they've shown that throughout the entire Tour."
"To be honest, I'm thrilled with how I've been riding, and I really couldn't ask for more."
Only a 222.5km transitional stage from Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde and the lengthy individual time trial from Bonneval to Chartres, 53.5km in length, stands between the American and the parade into Paris where he may be crowned as one of the brightest Grand Tour promises ever to come out of the USA.
"I have great form and I'm going to empty the tank and give it everything I have in the TT," he said, adding that it was impossible to move onto the podium considering he is six minutes behind Vincenzo Nibali, who is third.
However, Van Garderen is set to post the best American Tour finish since Christian Vande Velde took fourth in 2008 (after the disqualification of third-placed Bernhard Kohl for doping).
"I was happy to see Zubeldia got dropped, that moved me up a place on GC," he continued with a smile. Now fifth overall, Van Garderen and his team captain Cadel Evans each moved up one spot ahead of RadioShack-Nissan's Spaniard.
Van Garderen came into the Tour as a support rider for Evans, but after the Australian's 'jour sans' on stage 16, he was given free rein to keep fighting for the best young rider classification, but he showed his respect for Evans after today's stage.
"[Cadel is] a tough guy, he's a fighter. He never gives up. Even today, he had a bad day yesterday, it's easy to get demoralized and fall back to the gruppetto, but he fought. He definitely bounced back today, had much a better day today."