BAGNERES-DE-LUCHON, France (AP) — The Tour de France entered the Pyrenees on Tuesday for the first of three mountain stages that may well determine the final podium of this year’s race.
American Tejay van Garderen and young French prodigy Romain Bardet suffered on the Port de Bales climb, cracking in the stage’s final 25 kilometers and most likely losing any hope of a podium placing in Paris.
Here are five things to know about the Tour de France on Tuesday:
VAN GARDEREN GUTTED: American rider Tejay van Garderen was the biggest loser among the Top 10 yellow jersey contenders, blowing up on the first “beyond category” Pyreneen climb and most likely losing his chance of becoming the first American to score a Tour de France podium finish since Greg Lemond 24 years ago.
The 25-year-old Montana native looked dejected when he freewheeled up to his BMC Racing team bus after the stage. A team staffer tried to shepherd him through a crowd of reporters outside his bus, but Van Garderen stopped, saying “Let’s just get this over with so it’s done,” and bravely answered a handful of questions before heading to the showers:
“I just didn’t have the legs, I felt a bit empty.”
“What was going through your mind?”
“Just hang onto my boys and limit the losses, I don’t know.”
Van Garderen had started the day in fifth place, less than a minute behind his third and fourth place rivals for a spot on the Paris podium when the race finishes July 27.
After conceding more than three-and-a-half minutes to yellow jersey holder Vincenzo Nibali by cracking on the Port de Bales, Van Garderen is now in sixth place overall, 9:25 behind Nibali and more than four minutes away from third place Thibaut Pinot.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” Van Garderen said, “I had high hopes for a podium and now it looks like it’s taken a big hit.”
Team boss Jim Ochowicz expressed surprise at Van Garderen’s implosion in the Pyrenees, after the rider had shown in the Alps he could hang with the Tour’s strongest climbers.
“Tejay’s legs just went,” Ochowicz said. “It’s not something I expected to see.”
Van Garderen is still the the most highly ranked American competing in the Tour, and he said he’s not giving up now.
“It’s not finished, there’s still three hard GC (general classification) days to come so I’m hoping I can bounce back.”
CASARTELLI REMEMBERED: As the speeding pack of 169 riders still competing in the Tour de France began the descent of the 1,069-meter (3,507 feet) Portet d’Aspet they were reminded of one of the saddest chapters in the Tour’s 111-year history.
A memorial a few kilometers below the summit marks the spot where 24-year-old Italian racer Fabio Casartelli crashed and was killed in the 1995 Tour.
Casartelli, a teammate of Lance Armstrong, left behind a wife and three-month-old son Marco. He was the fourth rider ever to be killed during the Tour de France.
Fellow Italian and current yellow jersey holder Vincenzo Nibali said he had thought of Casartelli during Tuesday’s stage.
“In front of the Fabio Casartelli memorial I thought of his family, which is most important considering the circumstances of the tragedy,” Nibali said. “My memory of the accident is the one of a child. I remember seeing it on TV but I didn’t understand very well.”
Before the riders rode past, Tour boss Christian Prudhomme and other race officials paused at Casartelli’s memorial to lay flowers.
COSTA OUT: World champion Rui Costa of Portugal pulled out of the race after examinations on the second rest day revealed a case of pneumonia.
Costa, who’d been in 13th place overall nearly 13 minutes behind leader Vincenzo Nibali, posted photos of his chest X-rays on his personal Facebook page.
The three-time Tour stage winner said that he woke up Tuesday feeling “as if I had been hit by a truck.”
The 27-year-old said in his Facebook post he was suffering from fever and muscle aches, in addition to the bronchitis he’d battled with over the past week of racing.
Costa’s Lampre-Merida team is now down to five riders, after three other team members were forced to abandon earlier in the race. Costa teammate Jose Serpa of Colombia just missed out on the day’s victory podium, finishing fourth behind stage winner Michael Rogers and two other breakaway companions.
CAVENDISH RETURNS: Mark Cavendish, the 25-time Tour stage winner who crashed out of this year’s race on Day 1 in his mother’s home town, was back riding Tuesday — but in one of his OmegaPharma-Quick Step team cars, not on a bike.
Cavendish was shown on television cameras smiling and waving from the team car during the long 237.5-km stage between Carcassonne and Bagneres-de-Luchon.
In an interview with French TV, the 29-year-old Briton declared he was “happy to be back at the Tour de France, even if I’m not riding.”
Cavendish had to have surgery on his right shoulder to repair ruptured ligaments after crashing in the final sprint on the first stage.
The former world champion recently tweeted that he is “bored” by not being at a race that he hasn’t missed since 2007.
Cavendish said he’s discussing with his team about when he can return to racing, possibly in time to start September’s Spanish Vuelta.
WHITE JERSEY BOYS: French rider Romain Bardet cracked on the first “beyond category” Pyreneen climb of this year’s Tour, conceding 1:50 to his closest rival for the young rider’s white jersey.
The 23-year-old AG2R team rider lost the white jersey to FDJ.fr rival Thibaut Pinot, who managed to finish the stage in the same group as yellow jersey holder Vincenzo Nibali.
Pinot now sits in third position overall behind Nibali and Alejandro Valverde of Spain. The 24-year-old climber looks well-placed to become the first Frenchman to finish on the Tour podium in Paris since Richard Virenque came second in 1997.
Bardet said there’s a “strong possibility” his team will now focus on protecting AG2R teammate Jean-Christophe Peraud, who moved up two places to fourth overall on Tuesday, just 1:02 behind Pinot.