Van Garderen, post-guardrail.

 

Tejay, jazzed.

Tejay, jazzed.

 

Tejay van Garderen flew over a guardrail yesterday, went airborne in stage three of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya. He called it the “most horrifying moment of my career.”

Which is too say it was a lot scarier than the criticism he took for letting disgraced ex-seven time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong motorpace him. Scarier than the four or five crashes he had in last year’s Tour.

Van Garderen seems to have some bad luck when it comes to any kind of consistency in stage races — he’s hot, he’s cold, injured, sick, missing that extra gear, whatever. He might be on a grand tour podium if he could just put in three weeks without a jour sans something.

Still, what makes van Garderen a Tour contender is his mental tenacity and ability to pick himself back up on the tarmac and keep riding. He did it in that Tour de France two years ago after losing all hope of the podium. He went all-in on the double ascent of Alpe d’Huez and if not for a terrible mechanical would likely have won that queen stage.

After his Catalunya guardrail collision and 16 minute deficit, van Garderen regrouped at dinner last night and told the team to stay aggressive. The next morning he attacked Richie Porte and Alberto Contador, dropping them about 3k from the summit finish at La Molina ski station.

After the stage, Garderen spoke of not wanting to worry about his rivals closing on him. “Sometimes it’s really hard not to look behind you, but I tried my hardest just to look at the road in front of me and stay focused,” he said. That ability to not look behind is what keeps the American climbing up the mountain despite all the crashes and bad luck and maddening inconsistency.

This is the kind of win that almost vaults van Garderen back up into the Froome-Nibali-Contador-Quintana discussion. He’s so close, just a wheel length or two behind, and with some good fortune he might just close the gap.

We’re hoping that this July in France van Garderen finally puts it all together.  “I can’t let anyone deny me of this,” van Garderen after his win in Spain. He doesn’t want anyone denying him a shot at a Tour podium , either.

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