Van Garderen appeared to lose gobs of time during the chaotic final kilometers of Wednesday’s 212km stage of the Amgen Tour of California, which saw him crash inside 10km to go and mount an unsuccessful chase to catch the peloton. But UCI officials ruled that a second crash, which occurred just before 3km from the finish, impeded van Garderen’s ability to catch back on.
Officials then awarded van Garderen the same finishing time as the peloton, a move that allowed him to keep the yellow race leader’s jersey.
The ruling was delivered more than 15 minutes after the finish of the stage. Van Garderen was on his EF Education First team bus, and believed he had lost the race lead.
“When they told me I was back in yellow I was surprised, but I understand,” van Garderen said. “I think we would have gotten back if that other crash hadn’t impeded us. I gotta applaud their decision. Sometimes the cards fall your way.”
In a statement provided by the UCI, the race jury ruled that the pileup, which involved riders from Cofidis, Team Ineos, and Katusha-Alpecin, blocked the road and slowed van Garderen’s chase. UCI rules state that riders who are slowed by crashes that occur inside 3km to go receive the same time.
The UCI statement acknowledged that the crash occurred outside 3km to go, however it did not explain why the distance was extended for Wednesday’s stage.
“The mass crash near the finish of stage 4 was just outside 3km to go,” the statement said. “The commissaires have decided to treat the crash as such that all riders affected by the incident and the road blockage will receive field time.”
The chaos began inside 10km when van Garderen crashed along a seemingly innocuous stretch of California Highway 1. The peloton bunched up on the wide stretch of road and then stopped abruptly. Van Garderen said he touched wheels and crashed onto his shoulder.
“There was a lot of swarming and people were fighting for position, and I hit the front brake and I [crashed],” van Garderen said. “I can’t say it was anyone’s fault. We ride pretty close and sometimes things happen.”
Van Garderen’s bicycle was damaged in the crash, and he traded bikes with teammate Lachlan Morton and began a furious chase to get back onto the peloton. Up ahead, van Garderen’s teammates Lawson Craddock, Taylor Phinney, Alex Howes, and Rigoberto Uran slowed to wait for their leader.
Van Garderen’s problems weren’t over. As the EF team sped around a tight right-hand turn, van Garderen skittered on his bicycle and missed the turn entirely. As it turns out, Morton’s bicycle has the rear and front brakes installed in the opposite manner of the traditional American setup.
“You’re used to the left hand brake doing the rear and when I hit the rear brake the front wheel started sliding,” van Garderen said. “And I panicked.”
Behind van Garderen, EF’s sport director Tom Southam helped the team navigate the situation. Southam said the situation was under control until van Garderen missed the corner. Then, when the team had to navigate the crash with 3km remaining, their momentum was stopped.
“The crash basically stopped us,” Southam said. “It stopped us completely, so they were basically stopped twice on our way back.”
Van Garderen crossed the line 51 seconds after winner Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quick Step), who took the bunch sprint ahead of Jasper Philipsen (UAE Team Emirates). After crossing the line, van Garderen pedaled to his team bus. Doctors checked him out for injuries—he said he was suffering from shoulder soreness, but otherwise simple bumps and bruises.
Charly Wegelius, sport director for the team, said the team would assess van Garderen’s condition before deciding whether to produce a new plan for the rest of the race. Van Garderen currently leads Gianni Moscon of Team Ineos by six seconds in the overall.
The chaotic finale, which came after a long day on the bike, was not ideal, Wegelius said.
“Either way it goes it’s always unnerving to sit for six hours in a headwind and have everything go haywire in the end,” Wegelius said. “It’s rough, but that’s the way it is.”