His body language, his communication, even the look in his eyes were markedly different. Just over 24 hours earlier Tejay van Garderen had been brimming with confidence, talking about his high standing in the race, savouring his good sensations and laying out the highest of goals for the years ahead.
One day in the Pyrenees changed all that. The American rider went from feeling on top of a wave to crashing into the depths, his body tiring unexpectedly in the final week of the Tour. Van Garderen got into difficulty on the final climb of the day, the hors categorie Port de Balès, and slipped backwards as the other general classification contenders pressed forwards.
His BMC Racing Team rallied around him over the summit and down the other side, seeking to limit his losses, but he still finished a distant 37th. He conceded 12 minutes and 8 seconds to the day’s solo winner Michael Rogers; that didn’t matter for the general classification, but his 3 minute 36 second deficit to race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and several other overall contenders is much more serious.
Van Garderen slips one place to sixth overall. He is now over four minutes off a podium place and finds himself on the back foot with two more days in the mountains to go.
“It is definitely disappointing,” he said approximately 15 minutes after he finished, having ridden back to the team bus and coaxed life back into his legs on the home trainer. “I had high hopes for the podium, and it looks like it has taken a big hit. I just didn’t have the legs, I just felt a bit empty.”
Van Garderen’s answers to reporters were short in length, rich in disappointment. He appeared shattered by what happened, and was markedly different to the athlete who was full of possibilities the day before. He had spoken about attacking then, but that ambition was a world away. Instead, stage 16 was simply about survival.
“I tried to just hang onto my boys and try to limit the losses,” he said. “Movistar just made an insane tempo and it was too hard.”
“I don’t know what the reason was”
Team president Jim Ochowicz said that he wasn’t aware of any problems earlier in the day. He acknowledged that a rest day can sometimes cause difficulties for riders, even if they try to have a good routine.
“It happens a lot. That is why we rode. You think you are doing the right [amount]… okay, you are trying to do the right things on the rest day to keep people focussed on the race. I think we did a good job doing that. It just didn’t seem to work.
“I don’t know what the reason was that Tejay’s legs just went. He didn’t have them.”
As van Garderen said, the chances of a podium have taken a big knock. Ochowicz played down talk of a specific target, saying that the team and the rider were always taking it as things unfolded.
“Podium is something other people talked about, but we didn’t do that internally within the team. We are just getting through each day as we move forward, evaluating whether we have a good day or a bad day,” he said.
“In three weeks this is going to happen sometimes. We will figure out what the problem was. Obviously there was a problem, then try to correct it and get back into the race tomorrow.”
Van Garderen was consoled by his team-mates after finishing the stage, with many of them speaking briefly to him and patting him on the shoulder. He in turn thanked them for their work for him.
He’ll be both disappointed and confused by what happened, but is keeping his fingers crossed that the issue is a temporary one.
“I am really hoping I can bounce back tomorrow and recover the legs I had in the Alps,” he said. “The race isn’t finished; there are still three hard GC days to come. Like I said, I’m hoping to bounce back.”
Ochowicz and the team will hope for the same thing. Whether or not that happens, van Garderen has shown flashes of brilliance in the Tour and will regain his optimism over time.