GAP, France (VN) — Tejay van Garderen fought, surrounded by teammates, urged on by the radio in his ear, against an inevitable slide that would send him slowly, inexorably, off the back of the peloton and out of the Tour de France.
He pulled up on the right side of the road, all but collapsing over his bars. In pain? Perhaps. Physical and emotional.
What feelings must rise in a man who has held the weight of expectation so perfectly upon his shoulders, who rode what many have called the perfect race, as perfect as he could have ridden it, only to have it come crashing down just days from Paris?
“It was a lot of emotions,” van Garderen said. “It almost feels like I want to disappear right now.”
“It was hard. It was hard to look my teammate in the eyes. It was hard to call my wife and explain to her what’s going on.”
That’s how it feels.
Van Garderen stepped off the virtual podium and into a car slightly more than 70 kilometers from Wednesday’s finish line in Pra-Loup. He had battled a slight cold, just sniffles, since stage 13. It worsened on the rest day; he was feverish, just slightly, and had chills. But after good sleep Tuesday night, he awoke feeling confident.
“I got a good night’s sleep. I felt ready to race. I felt like I was back closer to normal,” he said.
Then the accelerations came. Nairo Quintana and his Movistar team made the early kilometers difficult. The illness van Garderen hoped was dissipating had not.
“Once I got out there, the muscles just had no energy,” he said. “I couldn’t push, straight away from the start, I kinda knew that this isn’t good, I thought, ‘Hopefully I can hide and ride into it for a few kilometers, and I’ll start to feel better. But the sensations never came.”
The result was televised to the world. Van Garderen, less than a week away from potentially his best-ever Tour de France result, clipped out, laid his head against Max Sciandri’s chest, and stopped. He could go no farther.
“It is just hugely disappointing,” he said.