As Movistar and Sky traded blows on Wednesday, BMC Racing and its pair of overall contenders were happy to let them punch away.
“Richie and I were happy to sit back, watch those two teams go blow for blow,” van Garderen said. “We’re going to try to be more conservative and use our bullets when they really matter.”
As expected, Wednesday’s stage across the Massif Central was not difficult enough to change the GC picture. But it wasn’t easy. A jab from Movistar came first, and then one from Sky.
“Movistar really opened it up, couple climbs to go when it really got steep. I wasn’t expecting them to go that hard,” van Garderen said. The break was pretty much gone, so they didn’t have the stage victory in mind. It definitely softened up some legs for a lot of the guys.”
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It was also a glimpse of the tactics to come, and the team strength van Garderen and Richie Porte will have to deal with. The Movistar/Sky duel is one we’ll see again, as the lieutenants of Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome line up and trade blows through the Pyrénées and Alps. They’ll poke and prod at every opportunity, just in case one of the two hot favorites is having an off day.
That aggressive riding could work out well for a team like BMC.
The American-registered squad arrived in France with two contenders for the overall. After Porte’s untimely puncture, which sent him tumbling down the standings by 1:40, it’s down to now perhaps one and three quarters. Both rode well on Wednesday, sitting quite comfortably in the front group behind the charging Movistar and Sky teams.
The bullets van Garderen speaks of will really matter in the Pyrénées, which the race hits on Friday, and even more so in the final week through the Alps. “That third week is where it’s really all going to go down,” the American said.
There’s no question that Porte and van Garderen lack the climbing domestique firepower available to Quintana and Froome. Half of Sky’s team could ride into the top 20 this July if given the opportunity. BMC, in contrast, is full of strong riders for flat and rolling stages, with only a few climbing domestiques.
But crucially, Porte and van Garderen have each other. The two BMC riders clasped hands at the finish on Wednesday. They appear to be working well together. Porte’s flat and time loss solved any potential in-the-moment “who’s going to pull” dilemmas, should the two end up isolated.
And thanks to the heated duel between Movistar and Sky, neither Porte nor van Garderen nor any of their BMC teammates should be forced to expend unnecessary energy. Come that third week, that could make all the difference.