Four years have passed since Spain’s Juan Manuel Garate won on the Mont Ventoux in the final phases of the 2009 Tour de France, as Lance Armstrong, Bradley Wiggins, Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador battled it out.
And now, as the Tour reaches the Ventoux once again for the first time since 2009, the veteran Belkin pro has analysed both the climb, his own performance there and the chances of his two teammates, Bauke Mollema, currently second, and Laurens Ten Dam, currently fifth in the battle for the overall.
“Personally that win was the most important moment of my sporting career,” Garate, now 37 and who has taken stage wins in all three major Tours, tells Basque daily El Diario Vasco from Germany, where he is taking part in a Belkin training camp for their Vuelta participants.
“Winning on the Ventoux was something unique. We got there after a very poor Tour for the team,” - then Rabobank - “and winning there helped turn things around in a big way.”
Indeed, as Cyclingnews wrote at the time, "Juan Manuel Garate saved Rabobank’s blushes at this year’s Tour with a stage winning performance on the summit of Mont Ventoux...becoming the first Spaniard to win on the mountain in the Tour’s history.”
Pointing out that Rabobank had had one of their worst Tours since 1996, Cyclingnews then mentioned that Denis Menchov, recent Giro champion, had sustained multiple crashes and was in 51st place, whilst Robert Gesink had crashed out with a broken wrist and Oscar Freire ‘has been almost invisible in the sprints’. To say that Garate’s win saved the team’s Tour, then, is no exaggeration.
“Pardon me for saying so, but it had been a shit Tour for us. Nobody thought the break I was in would stay away, I got in it though, and when we reached the foot of the climb they had cut back a lot on our advantage,” Garate recalls.
After a 165 kilometre break away, attacking alongside one Tony Martin, Garate finally dropped Martin 800 metres from the top. “But then he got back with 600 metres to go, I attacked him in the last bend and it all came down to a sprint.”
“That day [former Rabobank team-mate] Juan Antonio Flecha had been given us a lot of grief in the team bus before the start, saying ‘this is a stage that’ll go down in history’. And he wouldn’t shut up about it, so to make him quiet I said ‘ok, I’m going to win on the Ventoux!’. And I did!”
In his hometown in the Basque Country, Garate says “People still talk about it to that win, telling me where they were when they heard I’d won - working, in the car or whatever: and it’s something very important for me.”
As for the Ventoux itself, Garate points out that “apart from being completely empty of vegetation, which means no shade, the wind plays a big role, particularly in the last part.”
As for Mollema and Ten Dam, Garate tells El Diario Vasco “Mollema is very consistent, we shouldn’t forget he’s already finished fourth in the Vuelta [in 2011]. Before this Tour has been the first time he’s done altitude training, in Sierra Nevada, in his career. He didn’t like that kind of training, but he’s managed to adapt to it. And it’s working out for him.”
“I’m not surprised he’s doing so well, he’s just finished second in the Tour de Suisse, I think he’ll be up there on the podium right the way to Paris. It’s good for Ten Dam he’s got Mollema there because Ten Dam tends to get pretty stressed and this way he’s under less pressure. That way, there’s less chance he’ll crack.”