Garmin-Transitions riders were the walking wounded at the start of Tuesday’s third stage at the Tour de France.
Christian Vande Velde was on a plane back to Spain along with the team’s GC hopes. Tyler Farrar had his wrist wrapped in tape and it was doubtful that he would be able to finish the cobblestone stage, let alone sprint.
And most of the rest of the team were sporting bandages and scrapes and cuts after five riders went down in Monday’s treacherous wet descent off the Stockeu.
It didn’t take long for the boys in argyle to get over the shock. Ryder Hesjedal attacked Tuesday and finished fourth (after one last stab for the stage victory in the final sprint), shot to fourth overall at 46 seconds back and won a trip to the podium for the day’s most-combative prize.
“The GC is finished for us, that’s it, we’ll just go for stages,” Garmin-Transition sport director Matt White said before the start. “What’s it worth to finish top-20 in the Tour? It means a lot more to win a stage in the Tour de France. We’ve had some bad luck with Christian – we just change our plan and adapt to it. It’s all about stage wins.”
Hesjedal’s big performance Tuesday quickly affirmed Garmin-Transition’s new strategy following the exit of Vande Velde and the injury to Farrar, the team’s two best shots at the GC and stage victories.
That thinking could change with Hesjedal suddenly sitting well in the GC picture. The scrappy Canadian could be the big surprise of the Tour — but it’s still early, with both the Alps and the Pyrénées looming on the horizon.
Vaughters said the team has plenty of remaining firepower to hunt for stage victories, something that’s proven elusive for the U.S. team in its first two Tours. At the start of the team’s third Tour, Vaughters said winning a stage is the team’s top priority.
Riders such as Hesjedal, Johan Van Summeren and David Zabriskie, who were expected to help Vande Velde in GC, will now have wings to go on the attack. And while Farrar recovers, the team can build a sprint around Robbie Hunter, a winner of a Tour stage in 2007.
“We’ve got to keep racing and be optimistic with the guys we still have. The guys who were going to be riding for Tyler and Christian can now take their own chances,” Vaughters said before the start. “We have to have a totally new plan. In 2008, we were an opportunistic team who ended up with a great GC. We just have to go back to that.”
All eight remaining riders made it through Tuesday’s challenging stage, including Farrar.
Farrar said he did not crash Tuesday and hopes to be able to be back in the sprints at some point if he can make it through the next few stages.
“I don’t know how I made it through today. It was very painful. I just gritted my teeth and got through it. Every bump hurts,” Farrar told VeloNews at the finish. “Hopefully I can recover these next few days, but I can only take it one day at a time. If I made it through this, hopefully I can make it through anything else. A week ago, this was one of the stages that I was targeting to win, now I am just trying to finish it.
“If we can get the swelling to come down, hopefully I can recover and pull on the handlebars again in the sprints.”