METZ, France (VN) – The 2012 Tour de France was going from bad to worse for Garmin-Sharp as the body count mounted in the first week, with crashes by Christian Vande Velde, Tom Danielson and Tyler Farrar leaving the team’s morale battered and bruised.
But there was Ryder Hesjedal, the defending Giro d’Italia champion, who had survived five harrowing stages relatively unscathed.
Any cautious optimism Garmin carried into Friday’s 205km sixth stage disappeared in an instant in a massive, late-stage crash that snuffed out Hesjedal’s dreams of the Giro-Tour double.
“It was a disaster day for us today,” said a hushed Garmin sport director Allan Peiper. “The GC is over. It’s been very disappointing all around the last couple of days. It’s a week to forget.”
Hesjedal and all save one of his Garmin-Sharp teammates were swept up in a high-speed crash with about 25km to go, with riders collapsing like a house of cards. The entire team went down save one man, Dave Zabriskie, who was up the road in the day’s breakaway.
Hesjedal slammed hard on his left side, heavily injuring his leg and hip.
Paris-Roubaix champion Johan Van Summeren looked like he stepped on a landmine, with his jersey cut and torn and his back, legs, arms and buttocks ripped open.
Danielson, who had separated his shoulder in a crash three days ago, lay writhing at roadside in agony. He did not finish and went packing straight to the hospital.
The aftermath looked like a hospital ward from a war zone as riders scrambled to check limbs, grab their bikes and try to limit the damage.
“This is the worst crash I’ve ever been in,” said team captain David Millar, who had several cuts and scrapes. “God knows how it happened, some idiot. … I’d like to see how it happened. It just shouldn’t happen like that.”
The entire team rallied to help pace Hesjesdal to the line, but any hopes of winning the maillot jaune disappeared up the road as the peloton powered toward the line.
Tyler Farrar helped push Hesjedal in the final kilometer and the proud Canadian crossed the line 181st at 13:24 back.
Hesjedal limped onto the team bus, unable to put weight on his left leg, his left side bleeding profusely with a heavy gash to his hip.
To add insult to injury, he was called back to the podium for a post-stage anti-doping control. When he hobbled out of the team bus into a waiting team car, he only muttered to VeloNews, “Bad — it was a very bad day.”
Vande Velde, who had crashed earlier in the week, described a grim scene.
“No clue what happened, it was just a horrible crash and a lot of people got hurt real bad back there. You never want to see that. We all went down. It’s bad,” he said when he arrived at the team bus. “I’ve never been a part of such a bad first week.”
This year’s Tour is in sharp contrast to 2011, when just about everything seemed to go right.
Tommy D rode to a top-10 in his debut, the team took three stage wins, including the team time trial, and enjoyed spells in the yellow jersey en route to winning the team GC.
This year, things have just gone from bad to worse.
“It’s the antithesis of last year,” Millar said. “I think Ryder is out as well. We’ll see, but he’s in a bad way.”
All Garmin can do now is lick their wounds and assess the damage.
Danielson is out; Van Summeren and Hesjedal are questionable. The rest will have to carry on and try to salvage something from this Tour.
“We have to see who’s still capable and who’s not,” Peiper said. “We’ll see what the doctors say and assess the rest tonight. For the next two weeks? That’s impossible to say right now. In any case, it’s a difficult day for us today.”
Redemption nearly came in the form of Zabriskie, the American time trial champion outed by a Dutch newspaper on Thursday as one of four riders assisting investigators in a Lance Armstrong doping case.
Zabriskie snuck into the day’s main breakaway and tried in vain to solo home for the win, only to get caught at the red kite.
“That’s the Tour. A lot of crashes happen. It’s just kind of a day of bad luck. I hope everyone’s OK,” Zabriskie told reporters. “Losing time is one thing, but having your life is another.”
Zabriskie won the day’s most aggressive rider’s prize and set the example of how the rest of this Tour will look like for Garmin.
“Dave Zabriskie only got caught one kilometer from the end. It would have been a nice finish to the day. That’s the spirit of the team,” Peiper said.
“We’ve lost most of our chances for everything in this Tour de France. We have a fighting spirit. That spirit is still there. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”