“The latest news about Tejay? He’s fine, he’s OK, he didn’t hurt himself and that is the most important thing. This is only a bike race.”
So said BMC directeur sportif Yvon Ledanois after his team’s leader Tejay van Garderen had crashed into and over a guardrail coming down a mountain descent during stage three of the Volta a Catalunya.
“There was a 10-metre drop on the other side of the armco and anything could have happened,” added Ledanois, “so it was a relief that he only had some scratches. For him, the general classification is finished. But I told him that there were still stages to go for, that he needed to prove to the team that he was a real leader and he had to show that on the road.”
Presciently, Ledanois was speaking in Tona, before the start of the only mountain-top finish of the seven-stage WorldTour race, at the ski station of La Molina. A little over five hours later, van Garderen was crossing the finish line with his arms in the air, punching the sky, having attacked then held off Team Sky’s fast-finishing Richie Porte and resisted the counter-attack of Alberto Contador of Tinkoff-Saxo. If Ledanois was hoping that van Garderen would ‘bounce back’ then he couldn’t have wished for a much better response.
“I had it my mind to go for it today, Yvon (Ledanois) said that because the classification was done for me I would get a little bit of freedom from the rest of the bunch and if I saw a chance, I should really go for it,” said van Garderen later.
“I did this race in my neo-pro year with High Road in 2010 and I just remember finishing every stage on my hands and knees, it was one of the hardest things I’ve done. I’ve been going well since the start of the year, I showed the form I had in Paris-Nice and in Oman and it was good to show it here, but I just needed a bit of luck.”
When van Garderen was talking about ‘luck’ he probably didn’t have in mind the fact that he fell off a mountain the previous day, but he acknowledged his good fortune.
“I can’t believe how lucky I was yesterday, the worst of it was just scratches from thorns in the bushes, but I landed in a bunch of soft branches and when you go over a guardrail like that, you never know what can happen. I have one of my best friends (team mate) Taylor Phinney who had a very unfortunate incident with a guardrail at the US national championships.” (where he badly broke his leg)
Van Garderen’s winning attack – inside the final two kilometres as the pre-race favourites sized each other up – was a bold move and one that paid off. Van Garderen overhauled Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) and Vasil Kiryienka (Team Sky) but when Contador attacked, it looked like the American was going to be caught by the Spaniard, with the Tinkoff-Saxo man racing for both the stage and to move up on general classification.
“I knew Alberto was coming up, as much as you try not to look back in these situations. I tried not to focus on him, sometimes its really hard not to look back, but I tried to stay focused and look at the road in front of me, when I saw 400 metres to go I just thought, ‘Aw, I can’t let anybody deny me this win’.”
Earlier that morning, Ledanois, a former pro, railed against the obsession with power outputs and watts in racing. “In modern cycling, I understand that power meters are very useful in training, but in a race you just need to listen to your heart and your legs and attack on feel. It’s… it’s panache, you know? Panache!”
When van Garderen attacked and won, there was a little panache on show that would have brought an approving nod from his directeur sportif. Train with watts, but win with panache.