Two weeks into the Tour de France, Tejay van Garderen (BMC) lies over half an hour behind the yellow jersey wearer and race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky) and seemingly a lifetime away from his feats of last July, when he impressed to claim fifth overall and the title of best young rider.
It would be understandable if van Garderen were to dwell on the negatives of his collapse in the Pyrenees last weekend but he immediately vowed to set aside his disappointment in a bid to salvage something from this year's Tour, deferring the full post-mortem on his short-lived overall ambitions until after the race.
Easier said than done at the Tour de France. However the opportunity finally presented itself on the stage 13 to Lyon, when van Garderen infiltrated the move of the day after 50 kilometres. The American had teammate Marcus Burghardt for company in the winning break of 18, but when his attempt to forge clear in the finale came to nothing and he sacrificed his chances for the good of the team, he had to settle for 16th place, 1:35 down on winner Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
“It’s hard when you’re not a sprinter to win out of a group like that,” van Garderen said after warming down outside the BMC bus. “We knew we didn’t have the fastest guy to the line so we knew we had to ride aggressively. Maybe if there was a harder climb or a climb closer to the finish we would have had a chance but we had to try.”
The final two climbs of the Côte de la Duchère and the Côte de la Croix-Rousse presented the final opportunity for van Garderen to try and force the issue, and he duly put in a searing turn to shatter the leading group with 16 kilometres to race.
Van Garderen’s effort on the penultimate climb was not enough to go clear by himself but he again showed his strength on the run-in to Lyon, as he worked to try and reel in late escapee Julien Simon (Sojasun).
“I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so I said I was going to go for it. It didn’t work but it feels good to give it a try,” van Garderen said of his acceleration.
On the eve of the Tour’s re-entry into the high mountains and with seven minor climbs dotting the parcours, Saturday’s transitional stage promised the ideal combination of circumstances and terrain for a break to stay away, but the size of the group meant that it was a difficult situation to control.
“There were times when we were rolling together pretty well, and other times when guys would sort of hang on, and that was a little bit annoying,” said van Garderen.
“There was also a long time there where they kept us at one minute because a couple of teams who missed the break were chasing us. Then all of a sudden, they gave up the chase. It was nervous there for a good 40 kilometres. We were rolling fast and they were still pretty close.”
As van Garderen headed to board the BMC bus, he said that he would look to sniff out another breakaway opportunity in the mountainous final week – “Right now, I’m just trying to look for every opportunity I can” – and he also expressed his belief that teammate Cadel Evans can move up from his current 12th place on general classification.
“Every year at the Tour when you get into the third week, guys start to die and crack in front of you, but Cadel has shown that he can be pretty stable in the third week,” van Garderen said. “I would say he could finish in the top ten or maybe even the top five still.”