A rain-soaked Tejay van Garderen (BMC), yellow jersey clinging to his thin, Tour de France-prepped frame, pulled a 20-strong group up the lumpy road to Villard-de-Lans, kilometer after kilometer, chasing a breakaway containing reigning Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and former world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida). When the attacks flew around him as the finish line approached, he followed as best he could, tired, surely, from a day on defense.
It wasn’t enough; Nibali took the lead at the Critérium du Dauphiné by 42 seconds, rewarded for his daring, early-stage move. Van Garderen, rolling across the line just behind those he’d pulled for so long, now lies in fifth.
What a difference 24 hours can make. Thursday’s uphill finish was a coup for the American, as he sprinted past Tour de France champion Chris Froome (Sky) to take yellow. Friday was a blow in equal measure, as that same yellow was torn from van Garderen’s shoulders by another Tour champ, Nibali. The day was proof — as if any at this level need a reminder — that efforts extend through today and into tomorrow, and the next day, in the complicated chess-on-wheels of stage racing.
“I knew I couldn’t mark everyone so I picked Chris Froome and Romain Bardet,” van Garderen said after the stage. He did not follow Nibali, Costa, Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) when they gained separation in stage’s tough, early kilometers.
“Every single one of those guys [in the breakaway] was at two minutes [down] and every single one of those guys has a huge pedigree in the sport,” van Garderen said of the leading riders. “If I follow everything, I blow up.”
Despite big pulls from teammates Rohan Dennis, a former UCI hour record holder, and Dylan Teuns, the day’s power breakaway could not be retrieved. At the base of the final climb, the four remaining still had two and a half minutes.
“It was a rainy day, it was up and down and really technical — so it was just the perfect storm,” van Garderen said. “Any stage hunter was going to be looking at today for a breakaway. Everybody knew the breakaway had a good chance to win, so that meant everyone wanted to be in it. That meant the guys who got in it were really strong.”
Van Garderen pointed to his two young teammates, Dennis and Teuns, as his saviors on the day.
“I really have to give a big shout-out to those two guys,” he said. “They were just incredible today. Sadly, we were just a little bit isolated. When guys like Nibali and Valverde get up the road, it is really tough to bring them back.”
Van Garderen now sits behind three of Friday’s escapees — Nibali, Valverde, and Costa. A late move from Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) pushed the Briton past him as well.
The final two stages of the Dauphiné will be brutal. Saturday’s route from Montmélan to Saint-Gervais-Les-Bains features five category 1 climbs, including a seven-kilometer uphill finish to Le Bettex. Sunday is only slightly easier, with six categorized climbs but only two category 1s. It finishes with a 8.5 kilometer stretch at 5.7 percent up to Modane Valfréjus.
The mountainous stages could be made even more difficult by forecasted bad weather. BMC, for its part, is determined to retake yellow.
“We don’t think the Dauphiné is finished,” said team sport director Yvone Ledanois. “Tomorrow maybe we have another big surprise.”
“I am motivated,” van Garderen said. “Valverde and Nibali were both dropped yesterday on Pra-Loup. So maybe this is more of a blessing in disguise that we do not have the jersey and we do not have to defend. Maybe Astana can waste some of their bullets early on in the stage. If I have the legs on the last climb, 42 seconds isn’t much.”