Greg Van Avermaet will have the biggest smile at the BMC Racing dinner table this evening after an impressive stage 5 win at the Tour de France but Tejay van Garderen will be quietly pleased with his ride too.
The American came through the first medium mountain stage of this year's race unscathed and with his overall ambitions intact. He sits 5:17 down on his teammate and new race leader, Van Avermaet, but tied with rivals Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana in the overall standings. To complete BMC's joy, Richie Porte put aside his time loss from stage 2 and finished with the GC favourites.
While Van Avermaet was up the road winning the stage, both Porte and van Garderen tracked Movistar and then Team Sky as the two teams set the tempo at the front of the race. The terrain was demanding but not unbearable, though given it was the first mountain stage of the race, and after the previous two long days in the saddle, there were more than a few casualties.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) all faded during Movistar's pacing duties, while Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) lost ground on the final climb when Romain Bardet's rapid acceleration split the GC men.
"Movistar really opened it up with two climbs to go when it really got steep. I wasn't expecting them to go that hard because the breakaway was gone and they didn't have a stage victory in mind. It definitely softened up some legs for some of the guys," Van Garderen said as he warmed down after the stage.
At this stage, there is little one can read into van Garderen's ride. He was at the front when he needed to be, but the coming days in the Pyrenees will provide his overall prospects with a far sterner examination. However, given that Nibali and Contador lost ground, the American's position could not be better at this point.
"It's hard to take too much. I feel good but it's only stage 5," he said.
The sight of both Team Sky and Movistar going head to head this early is a feature likely to be repeated throughout the Tour's mountain stages. The two teams have the number one and two favourites and squads around them that are suitably armed. BMC, no pushovers themselves, can allow their rivals to take up the race while they take a more conservative approach.
"Richie and I, we're happy to sit back and see those teams go blow-for-blow. We're going to try and be more conservative and use our bullets," van Garderen said.
"Quintana and Froome look good, they put their teams on the front. I'm surprised to see Nibali dropped but that's not such a big shock given he's coming off the back of the Giro. Contador could still be recovering from the crash."
"They smelt Contador's blood"
Porte had a far happier disposition after the stage when compared to stage 2. He lost 1:45 that day due a late puncture, but came through a testing day in the Massif Central without incident, and finished in the same time as van Garderen and company.
"I felt really good, personally. It's a great day for the team, firstly, but it's also nice to get into the climbs," Porte said.
Porte sits in 27th place, 7:02 behind Van Avermaet, but, like van Garderen, he finished in the main group. The pair were unable or unwilling to react to a late attack led by Bardet, but with Sky pulling the race back together and the final ascent to the line not difficult to make a true selection, the Australian hung on.
"It was Bardet who attacked on the final of that climb and I think that played a part in it being a tough day. It was such a hot day but the main aim for us was to just stay safe. We both had a good day and Caruso was great as well. We've seen some good signs," Porte told Cyclingnews at the finish.
"There's never an easy day in the Tour. It might look like it, but it's still stressful back there. Also that last 70 kilometres was full gas."
As for Contador, a former teammate at Saxo Bank, Porte sensed that teams would look to light up the race: "The whispers were that he wasn't good and the guys smelt blood and went for him. You just don't know with him though. He's going to keep fighting."
Porte is not yet back in the frame for a GC ride but his outlook on the race has certainly improved. "I just have to try and put it all behind me. It's not nice to have lost time but I'll keep fighting too. I had good legs and it's exciting," he said.
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