Tejay van Garderen is “right up there” with the Critérium du Dauphiné’s top contenders, he said.
Well, ahead of them, actually.
A slight fade by Chris Froome in the final meters to Pra Loup, uncharacteristic of the Sky rider, left the door open for BMC’s van Garderen to snatch the Dauphiné’s yellow jersey on Thursday, the first of three mountaintop finishes.
Van Garderen crossed the finish line at the small French ski resort 36 seconds behind Frenchman Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), who had escaped on a narrow, twisting descent off the Col d’Allos and came into the final climb with a lead of nearly a minute and a half.
The American now leads the Dauphiné by 17 seconds over Movistar’s Benat Intxausti. Bardet now lies in third, 20 seconds back, and Froome sits in fifth, 41 seconds back.
The day’s final climb, a short, 6.5-kilometer kick with a reasonable six-percent gradient, saw Froome strike first, launching out of a quickly dwindling chase group toward the lone Frenchman Bardet. Van Garderen rode his own pace behind, waiting until the finish line was in sight to catch, and then pass, a flagging Froome.
“At first, I did not want to follow him out of fear I would go into the red,” van Garderen said. “So I kept him at a reasonable distance and stayed within myself. It looked like he kind of died at the end, so I was able to get the jump on him. It kind of surprised me. I thought he was going to start riding away.”
It was a rare display of weakness, however slight, from Sky’s Tour de France winner. But the Dauphiné is an imperfect crystal ball for Tour form.
“I think everyone kind of wants to strut their stuff a little bit before July and I think I showed I am right up there with them,” Van Garderen said. “Everyone has their different methods. You can never read too much into the Dauphiné as far as what their form is going to be in the Tour. But I definitely take some satisfaction and confidence out of today.”
Froome can take solace in the strength of his team, which had numbers in the finale of the difficult stage, which featured over 13,000 feet of climbing. The work of Ian Boswell, Peter Kennaugh, Wout Poels, and new signing Nicolas Roche, snagged from Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo team, set Froome up for an attack two kilometers from the finish.
Yellow simply changed hands within BMC on Thursday, landing on van Garderen’s shoulders from teammate Rohan Dennis. The squad will now have to control and defend over a series of tough stages if van Garderen is to hold onto the lead through Sunday.
“The guys all did a very good job on a hard day that had 4,000 meters of climbing,” said sport director Yvon Ledanois. “But we have another three days to come that will be very hard. And there might be bad weather. The most important thing is that the jersey stays with us.”