The final big Pyrenean stage of this year's Tour de France was a bit of a mixed bag for BMC Racing's two leaders. While Richie Porte managed to jump a few places in the overall standings with a strong finish to stage 9, Tejay van Garderen struggled to keep up with some of the accelerations on the final climb and lost 40 seconds to his teammate.
Porte started the day with a much bigger deficit than his teammate, sitting just over two minutes behind the yellow jersey. With that in mind, Porte launched several strong attacks inside the final five kilometres and was quick to pounce on anything else that moved, leaving van Garderen to battle it out further down the climb.
Initially, Porte was able to go with the attack of his former teammate Chris Froome (Team Sky), along with Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange), but he slipped back in the final metres. Sitting in a team mini-van, next to his fellow leader van Garderen as the rain hammered down in Andorra, Porte was happy with his ride but disappointed not to have made more time on his closest rivals.
"I needed to get time back so that was what I was thinking about. The team were fantastic today, they worked quite well together and it would have been nice to have got a bit more of a gap but I'm guessing that they're not going to let me ride away like that," said Porte. "I feel good, it's just nice to get the first proper base of racing done. Physically, I know where I am and that's in a good place."
As his teammate Porte was up the road, van Garderen was ploughing a lonely furrow. He hung onto the chasing pack for a short time but they soon disappeared and he was left to fight through the rain on his own. Due to his time loss, van Garderen slipped down the GC and out of the top 10 but is equal with Alejandro Valverde – who finished four seconds behind him on the stage – at 1:01 behind Froome.
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Van Garderen remained pragmatic about the situation and believes that he can comeback from this minor setback.
"It was long and super-hot and it got super cold at the finish. It was a really hard day off the back of a hard day so I think Richie and I did pretty well. Richie obviously did a lot better than me but now we just look forward," said van Garderen. "It has been nine hard days of racing so fatigue was definitely a factor but it’s still the first week. The first real mountain stage of the Tour I always tend to struggle more than the other ones so I think that it will only get better from here."
Stage 9 of the Tour de France saw the first of the big GC rivals drop out of the race, when Alberto Contador called it quits with 100 kilometres remaining. Not long before his abandon, Contador had been on the attack despite apparently suffering from a fever. When prompted by a reporter, van Garderen was a little bemused by the Spaniard’s tactics.
"That was a little interesting because he put in a really big attack at the beginning so it seemed like a go for broke and try to get back into GC or pull the plug and he did the latter," van Garderen said. "I think that, if he was smart, he could have stayed in the gruppetto, lost 30 minutes, recovered on the rest day and maybe in the final week win two stages and the mountains jersey. I think that for him it was GC or bust."