Riding in his first Tour de France, 22-year-old American Tejay Van Garderen went for broke on stage 8, and ended up with the King of the Mountains jersey and the Most Combative prize for his efforts.
Van Garderen got into a 9-man break just 8km into the 189km stage, and looked poised to contest the win in the final kilometers, repeatedly attacking what was left of the break every time the road tilted up.
“It was crazy,” he said. “It was just a hard day, out there all day. And then to have such a hard finish like that it was pretty insane. It was a thrill.”
After taking top points of the first Cat. 2 climb of the Tour on the Col de la Croix Saint-Robert, Van Garderen found himself with only Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Rui Da Costa (Movistar) and Christophe Riblon (AG2R).
Behind, Alexander Vinokourov was chasing with his Astana teammate Paolo Tiralongo and Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha. Van Garderen wasn’t looking back, though. He was focused on trying to shake his breakaway companions and get to the line first. Each time he was brought back, he would sit on, sometimes chasing back others’ attacks, and then go again.
“I was trying to win. Plain and simple,” he said. “I didn’t know the finish too well. I dint’ know it was going to be that hard. Maybe it would have been better to save it a little bit, but I wanted to try to win, so I had to try and do something.”
On the final climb up to Super-Besse Sancy, Costa launched what was to be the decisive attack. Van Garderen gave chase, but could not reel him in.
Behind, Vinokourov was now charging along. He passed Van Garderen with about 3km to go, but the young American kept the pressure on, trying to hold off the tattered remnants of the chasing peloton. In the end, he ran out of gas on Super-Besse, and finished 2:12 down on Costa.
After the finish, though, he was all grins, happy to have fought ably for a stage win.
Although he could likely keep the KOM jersey into the rest day Monday, he said he has no intentions of defending it. He is here first and foremost to ride for Mark Cavendish and Matt Goss in the sprints and Tony Martin and Peter Velits in the mountains.
“The plan is just to work for the team and save energy,” he said of the days ahead.
Regardless of the coming days’ outcome, Van Garderen will start stage 9 with a red number 178, a reminder to all that, for one day, he was the most aggressive rider in the Tour de France.