Tejay van Garderen (BMC) slipped from second to third on stage 14 of the Tour de France, but still believes a podium finish in Paris is a distinct possibility. After withstanding the attacks of his rivals in the Pyrenees, the short, steep ascent of the Côte de la Croix Neuve in Mende proved to be the American's undoing, and in losing 39 seconds to Nairo Quintana of Movistar he dropped back to third overall.
After the finish, a frustrated van Garderen ignored the questions of the media, but issued a statement through his team later on about how difficult he found the 3km long climb that averaged in at a 10 per cent gradient.
"I just tried to stay within myself and limit the time loss," van Garderen said. "It is a pity to move down a place on GC (general classification), but the podium is still very much a realistic goal. It was a difficult climb. On those gradients, that is where I tend to struggle the most. The Alps are better suited to my characteristics. I am still looking forward and I am still feeling good."
He conceded time to a number of his rivals, finishing behind race leader Chris Froome (Sky), Quintana, his teammate Alejandro Valverde, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and defending Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), but kept a positive attitude about the day's results.
"Even though I lost time on a couple of guys, I still gained time on Robert Gesink and Geraint Thomas and a few other guys close on GC," van Garderen said. "So it was not entirely an unsuccessful day. I kind of knew this day was going to be one I had to get through. Now the Alps present more opportunities and more chances to take back some time."
Van Garderen now trails Froome by 3:32 and Quintana by 22 seconds, but has a 30 second buffer on Valverde, and 51 seconds on Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) heading into the flat finish of the 154km stage 15 to Valence, and the tricky 16th stage to Gap that precedes the second rest day. He and team director Yvon Ledanois are looking forward to the Alps, where van Garderen has performed well in the past.
"Tejay lost time, but this climb was very hard and steep, which was perfect for the big climbers like Quintana and Alejandro Valverde," Ledanois said. "The longer climbs - ones that are 15 and 20 kilometers - are better for Tejay. The tour is not finished. We have a very hard week still to come. So we will keep going, step-by-step, toward our number one objective, which is the podium in Paris."