LUCENA, Spain (VN) — The fact that Tejay van Garderen‘s bike was lined up outside the EF-Education First bus told the story.
The American bravely took the start with a fractured finger a day after crashing as part of the team’s disastrous Thursday, only to abandon a short time later. The team tried to find something positive after having its Vuelta a España torn out from underneath them. Rigoberto Urán, who was among the worse-off in Thursday’s crash, remained in a Spanish intensive care unit in a hospital in Barcelona.
“As bad as things are, they could have been worse,” said EF sport director Juanma Garate before the start. “Rigo has several fractured ribs and some damage to his left lung. His injury to his shoulder is not the primary concern right now though he will likely have surgery.”
EF-Education First vowed to keep fighting even as grand tour debutant Logan Owen started Friday with six stitches in his leg, and Sergio Higuita suffered abrasions to his back from the heavy impact Thursday. The team also lost Hugh Carthy, who, like Urán, suffered a broken clavicle in the high-speed pileup that affected dozens of riders.
“Everyone fell on top of Rigo, one after another,” Higuita said. “Rigo ended up with about 10 people on top of him.”
The heavy losses from Thursday’s costly mid-stage crash continued to pile up as the peloton lined up for the decisive climbing finale to Mas de la Costa. Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) did not start and Tony Martin (Jumbo-Visma), who raced Thursday with deep cuts to his hips, lined up with bandages.
Nicholas Roche (Sunweb) was also among four riders forced out Thursday, and said his early exit was one of the low points of his long professional career. Roche needed 12 stitches in his left arm and suffered a deep hematoma to his right thigh.
“I think this is one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had in my career,” said Roche, who held the leader’s jersey for three stages. “I’d worked so hard to get back to this level, and it was a new opportunity to show that I was at this level again.”
Garate, meanwhile, tried to rally his troops to keep fighting in the Vuelta despite losing Urán and Carthy. Van Garderen crashed heavily Thursday after losing grip on a sweeping right-hander, started Friday with a fracture to his middle right finger, only to succumb to injuries and climb off the bike under the intensity of the first hour of racing Friday, when the average speed was nearly 50kph.
“Things went bad very quickly yesterday. We were in good position in this Vuelta, because [Wednesday] to Javalambre was the most challenging day for us,” Garate said. “I believe Rigo had a podium in his legs in this Vuelta, and [Thursday] we had Tejay up the road in the break to try to win the stage or take the leader’s jersey, then everything went black.”
Garate said the team rallied in the wake of the crash and quickly tried to reset the start button on this Vuelta. With Urán, Carthy and eventually van Garderen out of the race, the Vuelta is very different for EF Education First than it was 24 hours earlier.
“We have to get through today,” Garate said Friday morning. “We still have a long Vuelta ahead of us. We can still take something out of this race.”