After three weeks of racing the Tour de France, a place in the top five came down to just two seconds with Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) taking fifth ahead of Romain Bardet (AG2R) after the Frenchman punctured in the closings stages of the time trial to Périgueux.
Van Garderen had started the day sixth overall and although there were whispers around the BMC bus of a remote chance of a podium spot, van Garderen cut a satisfied and relieved figure at the finish. His Tour de France - by his own admission -hasn't been pretty, but with Paris in sight and a result that equals his 2012 performance, he has come out of this Tour with his Grand Tour credentials solidified after last year's disappointing showing.
"I really couldn't have gone any faster. I'm dead tired after three weeks so it's the not the highest power after three weeks, but I think that's normal. I put it all out there and I'm definitely happy," he told the gathering media.
This Tour has seen van Garderen display a number of qualities but with perhaps his tenacity standing out above all others. A hugely disappointing day to Bagnères-de-Luchon after the second rest day saw his podium dreams disappear, but he quickly turned a page with two consistently strong days on the roads to Soulan Pla d'Adet and Hautacam.
"The result is secondary," he said before adding, "me and my boys - we never gave up and there so many opportunities when it could have been easy to give up. The result is secondary to the journey we took these three weeks. I'm just so happy for my guys and so happy of what we did."
Emotions clearly run deep after a brutally tough three week race and while van Garderen can quite rightly point to his journey of progression and leadership, cycling is a results business, and a top five place in days, weeks or even years will be remembered more than a sixth place.
"I saw that Bardet had a mechanical out there so I feel bad for him," van Garderen said.
"I think everyone has had their share of bad luck in this Tour and this comes with the territory but he's such a young talented rider and we're going to have some big battles in the future that I look forward to."
A step forward
Van Garderen came into this year's Tour de France with a point to prove and a fair amount of hype to live up to. His overall ambitions fell apart as early as the first week in 2013 and a second false start would have been detrimental to his Grand Tour ambitions, despite his relatively young age. This year's Tour suggests progression though.
"I feel like I've grown a lot as a rider. The 2012 course suited me a lot better as a rider. This year I had my share of bad luck and misfortune, but I was able to fight my way through it so I'm really proud of myself and the team."
"It hasn't been pretty but I think I can be proud of what I've done here. I can point to a bunch of different times of where I could have saved time and there are a thousand different what ifs that you can put in either column as a lot of favourites crashed out."
"At the end of the day, I proved that I was strong and that if I have a little bit of luck and the stars align then hopefully one year I can come back here and win this race."
Van Garderen turns 26 next month and with BMC looking long term he remains their best hope of winning a second Grand Tour.
"It's the biggest race in the world. When you've been in the top 10, top five you have to try and win it," he said as he headed to the sanctuary of the team bus. I still have 10 years to try and win it one day."
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