Stage 16 from Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon may have put an irreversible end to any of Cadel Evans' dreams of defending his 2011 Tour de France crown or even get onto the podium in Paris, but the day also had its positive side for the American BMC team: Tejay van Garderen was able to consolidate his leading position in the young riders classification, gaining almost two minutes on his closest rival, Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-BigMat).
Evans had to let go of the 'groupe maillot jaune' on the Col d'Aspin, the third ascent of the day, losing 30 seconds on his overall rivals at the summit of the climb. He eventually re-integrated the bunch, but got dropped again - this time hopelessly - on the last climb, the Col de Peyresourde. That was when Van Garderen was given the green light from team management to continue his own race and not wait for his leader.
"Cadel, I think was suffering from the heat," the 23-year-old American said. "He just had a bad day. When he dropped back the first time, directors asked us to bring him back and that it was perhaps just a bad moment, and that he would bounce back once he was in the peloton, but it was pretty evident that he was just having a bad day."
It was also on the Peyresourde that the second-placed on the young rider classification had difficulties following the group, but Van Garderen was able to press on, finally improving his GC standing from seventh to sixth - one placing in front of Evans. But the BMC rider did not confirm that this new position also made him the new team leader.
"I think it's more of a co-leadership because he's still only 11 seconds behind me on GC. He could easily bounce back on the next day, and I could possibly have a bad day - I hope not," continued Van Garderen, before admitting that he was very satisfied with his performances at this Tour.
"I'm doing better than I could have ever imagined. For Cadel, there is no way now to bring back that time [8:06 behind race leader Wiggins - ed.] to make it to the podium - it's just not possible. Now we'll have to look for other opportunities, maybe a stage win in a breakaway. We'll definitely defend the white jersey and our two top ten placings."
Team director John Lelangue confirmed this change of strategy for the final days of the Tour. "Tejay has proven that he has good legs. It's only normal that we continue to support him from now on," the Belgian said.
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