Despite bad luck in the time trial finale of the Volta ao Algarve, Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia) held onto a top 10 spot overall in his first stage race of 2010.
Van Garderen went into the stage lying fifth overall but as a talented time trialist a podium place wasn't out of the question. At the first time check the American was down on stage winner Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne) but a mechanical problem forced him to swap to a road bike and he slipped to ninth overall.
"I felt good but I didn't have the best of luck. After about seven kilometres my bars became loose and I had to get a bike change. I was feeling good and got on a road bike but to drop from fifth to ninth is a little disappointing, but that's bike racing I guess," Van Garderen told Cyclingnews.
"I was on my way to a good ride and I think I was around the top five or pretty close to it but I don't want to speculate too much."
Van Garderen started the day 35 seconds down on race leader Contador (Astana) but tied with Olympic road champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel - Euskadi). "I didn't really have any expectations," Van Garderen said. "I knew that there were some good guys ahead of me and some good guys behind me but I wanted to keep my top five in GC and maybe even move up a place. The podium was a long shot but I was thinking about that. I'm the kind of guy who likes to swing for the fence.
"Ninth on GC when you look at the field isn't too bad. I didn't expect to do as well as I did but it's still kind of bittersweet with the mechanical issue. I'm happy with where my form is, I can't be too disappointed."
Van Garderen cemented a strong overall position on stage three from Castro Marim to Malhão. The stage was won by Contador but Van Garderen finished fifth, 25 seconds behind the two-time Tour de France champion, and ahead of established riders such as Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne) on the stage's mountain finish.
"When I looked around I was a little bit taken aback with the résumés I was up against," said Van Garderen. "I looked to my left and there's the Olympic champion and I look to my right and there's Levi Leipheimer and I look up the road and Contador is just a few seconds ahead. It was incredible to be up there with those guys and that day was certainly a special day for me.
"I did see him attack but I didn't think about going with him. He just blew away from everyone. I'm not a super-explosive rider so I was trying to keep the tempo and stay within my limits. I just tried to stay calm."
Van Garderen will race Omloop Het Nieuwsblad next weekend followed by Strade Bianche, Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, Tour of Turkey, Liège - Bastogne - Liège, Tour of California and Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré.