He rode in silence, only the clicking of his freewheeling bike puncturing the stillness before a number of his teammates circled around to offer a blend of encouragement and sympathy.
The most heartfelt words came from Amaël Moinard, who with an arm around the American’s shoulder, reminded him that this was just the first day in the Pyrenees and that legs, on occasion, can take their time to rediscover zip and verve after a rest day. It was a telling moment of the team’s belief and respect for their wounded leader who was nothing but honest at the finish.
"Movistar just made an insane tempo and it was just too hard," van Garderen said at the finish as television cameras searched for every angle and every raw emotion as he struggled to summarise the day’s outcome.
Just an hour beforehand, van Garderen found himself riding in the yellow jersey group as they raced their way up the slopes of the Port de Balès. Astana and Movistar looked in control but despite riders slipping back at an alarming rate the American remained in contention.
That all changed with five kilometres remaining. Out of teammates, and more importantly out of energy, van Garderen slipped to the back of group. One hairpin later and he had cracked.
By the time he crossed the line in Luchon he had conceded close to three and half minutes to the majority of his closest rivals. He may have only dropped one place - to sixth in GC - but he now is almost three minutes down on Romain Bardet and has Leopold Konig breathing down his neck seventh.
"It’s definitely disappointing," van Garderen said. "I had high hopes for the podium and that looks like it has taken a big hit. I just didn’t have the legs and I felt a bit empty.
"On the descent of the Port de Balès I just tried to hang onto my boys and limit my losses. I don’t know."
The gathering camera crews asked how he felt as they probed for a verbal confirmation of the raw disappointment etched on his face before one French journalist offered him a way out, reminding him that the race wasn’t yet over.
"I’m really hoping that I can bounce back tomorrow and recover the legs that I had in the Alps. Right now I’m just hoping I can bounce back and have a better day tomorrow. The race isn’t finished, there are still three hard days in GC still to come."
At the front of the team bus, decked in full BMC racing kit – and with the bike to match – Jim Ochowicz finished off an energy bar. He’d just seen his talisman suffer his first genuinely bad day in the Tour de France but he didn’t appear to show any signs of panic before his evening ride.
"Obviously that’s not the Tejay van Garderen that has been racing the Tour de France for the first two weeks," he said.
"It’s a little difficult to analyse yet until we’ve had a chance to talk to him but it wasn’t what we expected to see happen today.
"Now we reassess. He’s still in sixth place overall. We have tomorrow to look forward to and we’ll see what happens. Maybe it will be someone else at the back and it will be Tejay’s turn to have a good day. Obviously there was a problem today but we’ll try and correct it and then get back into the race for tomorrow."
Moinard, Stetina and Velits, the BMC trio that nursed van Garderen home today will need to pick him up this evening with a further two more days in the Pyrenees still to come.
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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