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PORTE DU HAINAUT, France (VN) — Battered and bruised, but still in the game. That sums up the Tour de France fates of Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp).
On a day when Chris Froome (Sky) became the first defending Tour de France champion to abandon since Bernard Hinault in 1980, the American pair endured their own sets of trials and tribulations, surviving on a day when others did not.
Both crashed, but each battled through brutal conditions as rain, wind, and mud turned the pavé into a slippery hell of crashes, collisions, and disappointment. Their respective podium hopes remain intact on a day when more than a few lost everything.
“It went incredibly well for us,” Talansky told reporters after cooling down outside the Garmin team bus. “This wasn’t a day that you could really win the entire Tour, but was absolutely a day you could lose the Tour, and we came through unscathed.”
Talansky crossed the line 22nd, his face caked in mud, at 2:22 back, and climbed from 21st to ninth, at 2:05 behind race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Van Garderen was just six seconds adrift of his countryman in 31st, staying 12th overall at 2:11 back.
Van Garderen frustrated at losses
Van Garderen, meanwhile, rode the rollers immediately after the stage, sticking to his post-stage routine despite a trickle of blood leaking from his left knee.
“I crashed. I don’t know what else to say. With the cobbles, we’re riding less tire pressure, and it has a different feeling. My rear wheel just got away from me,” van Garderen told NBC. “It could have been worse. It could have been better. I’ve just got to look forward.”
Van Garderen had the bad luck of sliding out on a traffic circle on rain-slicked roads just as the peloton was roaring toward the first sector of cobbles. Also caught out was Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde. So, Movistar and BMC collaborated to pull back their respective stars. That chase probably cost them a bit later when the front GC pack fractured under pressure from Astana in the final decisive pavé sectors.
“They caught back up, and then there were splits, and more crashes, and you’re always behind. It’s a game of attrition, that’s how it goes,” BMC manager Jim Ochowicz told VeloNews. “It’s too early to say how this impacts the GC. Froome is out of the race. Nothing is a guarantee here, until you get to Paris.”
Van Garderen couldn’t hide his frustration at the time losses, and joined a growing chorus of some who question whether the cobblestones, especially sectors as treacherous as what was featured Wednesday, should even be in the Tour.
“It was insane,” Van Garderen said. “I hear Froomey is out of the Tour. You guys got your drama, but that takes the race down a notch when you got your top favorite out. In theory, it could make the race less exciting toward the end. I think ASO needs to rethink having days like this in the race.”
Talansky remains positive, despite crash
Talansky, meanwhile, was relieved to make it through the cobblestone chaos with his GC options intact. Other than the losses to Nibali and Astana teammate Jakob Fuglsang, both Talansky and van Garderen are within range of most of the other GC riders.
“I’m very pleased. If you look at the list of guys that are up there, a lot of those guys are going to be gone when we get to the mountains, and aren’t going to factor in the overall GC,” Talansky said. “So we’re sitting pretty well.”
Talansky counted on the support of former Paris-Roubaix winner Johan van Summeren and Sebastian Langeveld to help chase back from a crash when another rider washed out his wheel.
Garmin sport director Robbie Hunter told VeloNews that without a crash on the pavé, he was sure Talansky would have been with the same group as race leader Nibali.
“Andrew was on the pavé in perfect position. Unfortunately, on one of the corners, a Lotto rider tried to come around him, but when the cobbles are wet like this, the only place to ride them is on the crown [of the road], and he crashed, and that cost Andrew, in our opinion, from finishing in the yellow jersey group,” Hunter said. “A small little mistake from someone else, and it cost us some time, but we’re right happy. Everyone rode their hearts out for Andrew today.”
Talansky summed it up best. Happy that the worst was safely behind him, he was already soaking up the significance of surviving a cruelly day of decisive Tour justice.
“It was an epic day to be a part of,” Talansky said. “It was a day I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
And a day many others will be quick to want to forget.