Two stage wins, seven days in yellow, one rider in an ambulance and a lot of torn clothing.
In nine days, Garmin-Cervélo has experienced the highs and lows of the rollercoaster that is the Tour de France.
On stage 9 into Saint-Flour, Garmin’s Dave Zabriskie crashed out with a broken wrist, while Christian Vande Velde and David Millar recovered from their own falls to finish on a day that saw Thor Hushovd surrender the yellow jersey.
Millar crashed early in the day, sustaining road rash but not breaking anything. Zabriskie and Vande Velde, however, were involved in the high-speed pile-up at about 100km to go in which several riders were launched off the side of the mountain.
“We were going very fast — it was dry, wet, dry, wet — all through the descent,” Vande Velde said. “You never knew what was coming. It was a corner that just kept turning, turning, and I went into the guardrail.”
Up ahead in the yellow jersey, Garmin’s Hushovd had the support of Leopard-Trek’s Fabian Cancellara in slowing the peloton to allow the crashed riders to return.
“If they hadn’t waited, I would have been out of the race,” Vande Velde said. “I was walking around for five minutes, looking for my bike, parts, helmet and glasses. There were people down in the ditch. It was bad. It was not a pretty sight.”
Sitting roadside with a broken wrist, Zabriskie knew his Tour was done.
After the finish, team boss Jonathan Vaughters was philosophical about the damage, contemplating the big picture.
“That’s bike racing,” he said. “You take a perfect week, and in three seconds it can really be pulled apart. That’s part of what makes the sport so intriguing and beautiful, but it’s also vicious and it’s brutal. It’s a brutal, brutal sport. It’s hard to see, but that is what it is.”
By waiting so long for the crashed riders to return, the peloton effectively gave the breakaway an insurmountable advantage as the five riders motored up the road. Vaughters said he was glad the group sat up, but it allowed the break’s advantage to balloon up to eight minutes.
“At that point it was essentially game over for us,” Vaughters said. “We tried. We tried to do the jersey honor, but there wasn’t any way we were going to come back.”
As the front group splintered on the final Cat. 4 kick up to the finish, Vande Velde finished 34th, 31 seconds behind the key group containing GC favorites Cadel Evans (BMC), Andy and Fränk Schleck (Leopard-Trek), Tony Martin and Peter Velits (HTC-Highroad). Vande Velde’s teammate and first-time Tour rider Tom Danielson finished in that select group of 12.
Hushovd finished 82nd, 6:47 back.
After losing time on the very first stage, Vande Velde is now in 19th overall, 4:53 back on new race leader Thomas Voeckler and 2:27 back on Evans, the best-placed of the GC favorites. Danielson is 17th overall, 4:22 down on Voeckler and 1:56 behind Evans.
Still, when the team bus pulled away at the end of the day, the front windshield was jammed with seven stuffed lions — a reminder of an honorable week for Garmin-Cervélo.