Classified by the Vuelta organisation as a category 3 ascent despite the 20 per cent ramps, after crossing the line at Santa Lucia eight seconds down on Froome, van Garderen pointed out wryly, "That would have rated as a cat. 2 if not a cat. 1 climb in my book."
But whatever the climb's final ranking, the fact of the matter is that the American followed up his solid riding on the first major mountain stage in Andorra with another strong performance in the Vuelta's first summit finish of nine in this year's race. Despite the gap on Froome widening from two seconds to 10, he is now second overall.
"We really wanted to stay safe, and [BMC Racing teammates] Rohan [Dennis] and Fran [Ventoso], they're big power guys who could lead us in to the climb and in a good position, and that saved me a lot of energy in the first couple of kilometres, not having to move up," van Garderen said.
"It's a pity I slipped there in the finale, but I think I'm right there. If I keep chipping away day by day, we're heading in the right direction."
Van Garderen pointed out that the racing had been unpredictable, because although the terrain was not easy and therefore potentially one for a major battle, "the GC is already kind of set, so there are guys down on time, and as long as it's the right combination the breakaway was always going to have a chance.
"I think Sky was happy to let the bonus seconds slip away, because Froome is only two seconds up in the jersey."
Froome's advantage has widened, albeit by a bare minimum, to 10 seconds, but van Garderen has limited the damage and is now the Briton's closest challenger, after David De La Cruz (Quick-Step Floors) lost time and Nicolas Roche (BMC Racing) also dropped a spot to fourth.
Van Garderen's strong showing on the shorter, punchier climbs bodes well, too, both for the two even steeper finishes this weekend at Cati and Cumbres del Sol, and the longer climbing challenges in the second and third weeks.
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