NANCY, France (VN) — Peter Velits perfectly summed up BMC Racing’s luck in Friday’s seventh day: “It was a shit day.”
Velits was right. BMC team captain Tejay van Garderen crashed hard with about 15km to go when he tangled bikes with a Movistar rider, not only sending him sprawling to the ground, but putting his teammate, Colombian climbing ace Darwin Atapuma, out of the race.
Atapuma, tapped as van Garderen’s last man for the mountains, is out of the race, and van Garderen crashed for the fourth time during this Tour, ceding 1:03 on a day when he couldn’t afford to lose time.
“I was on my teammates’ wheel. I really don’t know what happened,” van Garderen told a pack of journalists outside the team bus. “Someone swerved over, and I feel like I was taken out by behind. Someone hit the brakes in front, I had to hit the brakes, and someone came up from behind. It all happened so fast, it was hard to tell.”
It’s been a rough and tumble first week for van Garderen in his first shot at leading BMC outright as team captain. He crashed once in Great Britain, twice in the cobblestone stage Wednesday, but today’s was the most painful, at least when it came to the GC. He slipped from 11th to 18th, now 3:11 back.
“It’s a tough blow. The Tour is long, the race changes. Some guys lost a minute yesterday in the crosswinds. You just gotta stay the course,” van Garderen said. “The time loss isn’t so big as the crash itself … It’s not a good day for the team. Atapuma, we were keeping him fresh for the mountains, and losing him, I just hope he’s OK. He hit his knee pretty hard.”
Battered and bruised, van Garderen was pedaling into three potentially explosive stages in the Vosges mountains. He’ll likely add a few more bandages to those already covering his left knee, but he vows to press on.
“One minute maybe isn’t so much, but more important is the feeling of Tejay. He’s going to hurt the next few days,” BMC’s Peter Velits said. “We also lost Atapuma, who was good for Tejay for the mountains.”
After quickly regrouping, with teammate Velits passing him his bike, van Garderen did his best to limit the damage, with Peter Stetina, Michael Schar, and Amael Moinard doing their best to bring van Garderen back.
Tinkoff-Saxo surged to the front just as van Garderen hit the deck, prompting some to speculate that they were trying to eliminate van Garderen as a podium threat. Michael Rogers set a drilling pace at the front, but he told Danish journalists they were pulling to keep team captain Alberto Contador well-positioned at the front, adding he not realize that van Garderen had crashed behind.
“I don’t think they’re as vindictive like that,” said Stetina of Tinkoff-Saxo. “If you’re not riding at the front, you’re on the back foot. Everyone is getting tired, it’s nervous, then they’re these little climbs, it makes for a nervous finale.”
Team BMC is sticking with its podium ambitions, but crashes and time losses will obviously require a reboot of the team’s strategy.
BMC sport director Max Sciandri said the team broke the Tour up into blocks, and Friday’s stage marked the end of the first block of racing. Now the Tour moves into the Vosges, and into the next phase of racing.
“We still strongly believe in Tejay, the team does. We have to reassess a little bit. The team is strong, the Tour is long,” Sciandri said. “We made it through the first block pretty good. The next three days are going to be very important. Unfortunately, we lost Darwin Atapuma, he was climbing really well. He was our last man for the mountains. People are coming out of the first week a bit battered.”
Stetina, too, summed up things rather nicely. When asked to describe the Tour’s first week, he said, “Sketchy, that is the word that comes to mind.”