“Do you have the legs?” The Col de la Forclaz asked the question of Tejay van Garderen before any reporter could.
“I wish I had the answer,” Tejay van Garderen said.
BMC’s American GC contender will no longer contend, he said Wednesday. Van Garderen pulled the ripcord halfway up stage 17’s penultimate climb, dropping off a group of overall contenders led by Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali. Van Garderen lost nearly 18 minutes by the finish, and now sits 17th overall, 23:03 behind Chris Froome.
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It wasn’t illness or a crash, or even a particularly bad day. Standing in the shade of his team bus after Wednesday’s stage, van Garderen was at a loss to explain the lack of pace that forced him to pull the parachute, cut his losses, and save his legs for another battle on another day.
“There’s really no excuse, I wish I had one,” he said. “I guess I’m going to have to sit down with our performance team and see what we did in the buildup.”
An excuse is an explanation, at least. But van Garderen doesn’t seem to have either. He was “hanging on by a thread,” behind Nibali, he said, and didn’t give up so much as accept the fact that his legs were not good enough for a GC fight. But the source of the poor form remains a mystery, even to him.
“It’s definitely tough. You work the whole year and you think you’re doing all the right things, but … I dunno. You know, form’s a funny thing, sometimes you have it sometimes you don’t,” he said. “Right now it’s just … I dunno. I’m struggling.”
Van Garderen has not historically performed well after rest days, but team manager Jim Ochowicz brushed that explanation aside. “We did everything perfect. There’s nothing that we didn’t do right, so I don’t know the answer,” he said.
It wasn’t so much un jour sans — a day without — as it has been a Tour sans. Van Garderen’s form has seemed off from the start. Even without any incidents in the first two weeks, he was already losing small chunks of time whenever his GC rivals turned up the heat.
“I’ve raced against a lot of these guys before in a lot of other races and I’ve been able to be there with them,” he said. “For some reason, this year, it’s just not happening.”
With the GC now fully out of reach, BMC’s co-leader said he’ll turn super-domestique, provided his legs respond. There are two tough stages, plus a TT, left in this four-day Alpine block, and van Garderen will work for the podium ambitions of teammate Richie Porte.
With a 23-minute buffer, shooting for a stage win is possible as well — just as he did on Alpe d’Huez in 2013.
“To me its not worth fighting and fighting and fighting for 15th place,” he said. “So I was saying, ‘Okay, I’m going to try to save my legs as much as I can in order to help Richie or in order to sneak in a breakaway stage.’
“That’s worth more than fighting for the best wheel I can just to finish 15th in Paris. Having finished top five in this race twice, I’m not interested in that.”