Tour de France: Garmin-Transitions looking to Plan B after crash chaos
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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tour de France: Garmin-Transitions looking to Plan B after crash chaos

by Conal Andrews at 6:47 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France, Injury
Vande Velde on way home, Farrar’s future in race looking doubtful

Christian Vande VeldeThe American Garmin Transitions team is now looking at what its options are for the rest of the Tour de France after what was probably the worst day in the team’s history. It was one of the most badly-hit on yesterday’s second stage of the Tour de France, losing team leader Christian Vande Velde due to broken ribs and also seeing four other Argyle riders spilling onto the tarmac.

Vande Velde was the team’s big hope for the general classification, while its green jersey contender, Tyler Farrar, will start today but will need a miracle to get to the finish. He sprained his left elbow and suffered a fracture his left wrist. Riding a Tour de France stage with a broken bone is a huge ask in itself, but doing so over 13 kilometres of pavé is a mammoth masochistic ordeal.

Along with Farrar, Vande Velde went to hospital after the stage and got the news he feared. After breaking his collarbone in the Giro d’Italia, he then cracked three ribs in the Tour de Suisse. His run of bad luck struck again yesterday, with what was his third big accident of the year.

He actually went down twice, with the first accident not being too serious. “I crashed once right before the Stockeu. Riders crashed in front of me and I wasn't able to avoid them, so I went down,” he said. “We all knew it was important to be at the front over the climb and at that point, I felt ok and got back on and made it back to the front to get up Stockeu. Then another rider lost control in front of me and again, I couldn't avoid it. I crashed and landed in a ditch. I’m not sure what I hit; I think it might have been a pole.”

Vande Velde was in a bad way, but did what he could to return to the peloton. He had a chance when another of the race favourites was also assaulted by the asphalt, but couldn’t hold the wheel. “At that point my eye was bleeding pretty badly and the pain in my side and my back was excruciating. I got back on the bike though, and was coming back with Andy Schleck,” he said. “I tried to stay with that group, but the pain was too much and I couldn’t get out of the saddle to make it back on.”

The Chicagoan eventually finished 154th, a massive nine minutes 49 seconds back. Even had he been able to continue in the race, his Tour GC chances were over.

Vande Velde’s morale was low yesterday evening, and will hardly be better this morning. He’s said goodbye to his team-mates and will head home today, once again starting the recovery process and wondering just what he has done to warrant such shoddy luck.

“No one wants to leave the Tour de France. I worked really hard to get myself ready to be here again and I was just starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “I’m indescribably disappointed to not be starting tomorrow. I wish everyone luck – my team and all the other riders at this Tour de France. I don’t ever want to have to see another day like today, whether I’m in the race or not.”

Vande Velde doesn’t have much to show from this season, which was hampered early on by a hip injury, and then later on by illness. However there’s a goal that could, and should, motivate him; no American rider has ever won the Vuelta a España, with Levi Leipheimer going closest with his runner-up slot in 2008. If Vande Velde can find the motivation, he has the ability to chase a podium finish and, why not, aim for the very top step.

Team soldiers on:

Meanwhile, his Garmin Transition team-mates will push onwards, trying to salvage their Tour de France. General manager Jonathan Vaughters is clearly disappointed, particularly after getting fourth and eighth overall last year with Bradley Wiggins and Vande Velde, but knows that the team will simply have to play with the deck it has been dealt. The squad has yet to win a stage in the Tour and so this is one goal that will be chased.

“Clearly, this will mean a change in the general strategy for Team Garmin-Transitions,” he accepted. “We will focus on the multitude of talented riders we have on this team. We’ll be looking for stage wins and ways to animate the race.

“I’m proud of the ride our team did today. Despite injury and conditions, they pushed through, and all nine finished the race. We’ve lost Christian, and we’re all sad about that. He’s had a tough season and has preserved and pushed himself like few other athletes could. Tomorrow is going to be painful for Tyler. He’s got significant injuries, so starting alone is a huge step, and from there we’ll have to see how he goes. But regardless, a good, strong team remains at this Tour and we’ll be a part of the action throughout.”

Farrar broke the team’s duck last year, netting the first Grand Tour stage win for Garmin when he grabbed stage eleven of the Vuelta a España. He followed that up with two victories in the Giro d’Italia, and with Mark Cavendish appearing to struggle this year, there was a chance that he could take both stage wins and the Maillot Vert in the Tour.

However his hopes for the latter were dented by a bizarre incident on Sunday when a collision by Ag2r La Mondiale’s Lloyd Mondory saw the Frenchman’s bike get tangled up in that of Farrar, destroying his rear mech. Yesterday’s happenings were even more frustrating, and produced dramatic, gut-wrenching images of the Washington competitor writhing in pain.

Like Vande Velde, he twice plummeted to ground. “One minute I was riding down the descent and the next minute I was sliding. That was the first crash,” he said. “I got back up and started descending again and I have no idea what happened; all of the sudden my front wheel was gone and I was on the ground again.”

Straight away he knew the accident was a far more serious one, with the pain showing that he would not be able to just shrug it off. “I rode the last 30k with one hand. I laid my left hand on the handlebars but that’s all I could do,” he said, worrying words before today’s cobblestones. “I have a fracture in my wrist and banged up my elbow pretty badly. No one wants to quit the Tour de France, so you’ll push yourself a lot more through the pain than you will in any other bike race in the world. I’m determined to start tomorrow and as of this moment, that’s the plan.”

Walking wounded:

Farrar’s leadout man Julian Dean and all rounder David Millar were two of the three others who also suffered injuires. Dean has a large contusion on his left upper back, and likely had difficulty sleeping last night. Millar may have suffered a broken rib, but chose not to go to the hospital for x-rays. There’s little that can be done for that kind of injury, other than letting it heal.

“Today was just one of those days where I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Dean, with some resignation. “I tried to snake a trail through the falling riders around me but it was to no avail. I hit the road hard and could sense right away that I was not coming out of this one lightly.”

He said that examinations and x-rays showed that the damage wasn’t too serious, and that he planned to continue on in the race.

Millar spoke about the stage in dramatic terms, illustrating just how grim it was on the descent of the day’s most influential climb. “Today was definitely in my top five worst days on a bike, ever, and that’s a big cull considering the length of my career,” he said. “My first crash was a simple race incident where Christian, Julian and myself were well positioned at the front, but someone in front of us lost control before the Stockeu. This didn’t bother me, I just lost some skin on my left side, but it made me more diligent to be at the front at the Stockeu.”

Directeur sportif Matt White told the riders they needed to be at the front crossing the summit in order to stay out of trouble. They achieved that feat, but bad luck would strike nonetheless.

“Within only 200 meters of cresting I could see Lance fall about 10 places in front of me on a straight road. When I saw that happen I knew something wasn’t right - and that was immediately followed by my wheels disappearing from under me and my sliding across the ground. As I came to a standstill, Christian passed and asked if I was all right, to which I replied yes and got right back on my bike. At this point there were guys everywhere on the ground all around me.”


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