Tejay van Garderen (BMC) was in disbelief when he crossed the finish line and heard he had won the Vail Time Trial.
“Did I win the stage? Did I win the stage?” he asked his staff between breaths moments after crossing the line.
Van Garderen not only won Stage 5, but he also protected his lead on Friday in the USA Pro Challenge with a record-breaking ride. He burst across the finish line of the 10-mile uphill course with a time of 25 minutes, 1 second, narrowly beating the previous fastest ride of the day, set by Garmin-Sharp’s Andrew Talansky, by about four seconds. Van Garderen’s time was not only good enough to stay in the yellow jersey and win the stage, but it broke the course record (26:38) set by Levi Leipheimer in 2011.
“Your lungs are searing up there in that thin air, and you look down at your power (meter) and you know you’re doing way less than you could be doing at sea level,” van Garderen said, referring to the lower power output that cyclists experience at higher altitudes. “I was actually surprised to hear I’d got the stage win because I felt pretty bad the last two kilometers.”
Talansky came in second with a time of 25:05 and Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) took third with a time of 26:03. Talansky collapsed on the ground in a heap after the race, calling it one of the most difficult time trial rides he’s done.
“In the last few kilometers you think you’re going to black out with no oxygen,” he said. “But if you don’t go to the last kilometer with nothing left, you’re doing something wrong.”
Nobody came near to Talansky’s time until the final moments of the race, when van Garderen crossed the line.
In the general classification, van Garderen sits in first, BMC teammate Mathias Frank is in second, trailing by 1:30 minutes, and Danielson is third, trailing by 1:42 minutes.
Danielson rides to podium spot
Stage 5 was also a day of redemption for Danielson, who had a disappointing fourth-place ride on Thursday’s Stage 4 ending at Beaver Creek. The 2013 Tour of Utah winner attacked on the final category 1 climb, only to have van Garderen keep up on the ascent and then drop him on a rainy, technical descent.
Danielson’s time trial performance not only put him on the podium for the stage, but it also puts him in a podium spot in the general classification.
“I knew that (Stage 4) of all days was my chance to put time on Tejay, and he turned the tables on me,” Danielson said. “This (time trial) course really favors a guy like Tejay, but I did my best. I’m happy with how I performed. Tejay was just a little better than me, and I have to live with that. We’ll try again tomorrow.”
A high-altitude test
Riders agreed that the Vail Time Trial course presented one of the hardest efforts, with its combination of false flats and climbing, all topping out at about 9,700 feet.
In classic time trial fashion, many riders nearly fell off their bikes after crossing the line, or swerved their way with their heads hanging toward their team vehicles.
Van Garderen admitted that while he tried to conserve energy at the flatter initial part of the course, he still lost some time and power on the final kilometers.
“I underestimated a bit, and I paid for it, but what’s done is done. I got the win, and I got the jersey, and that’s what matters,” he said.
With two comparably flat stages finishing out the tour (from Loveland to Fort Collins and a Denver circuit race), it is unlikely that any major time gaps will be made, but van Garderen cautioned that anything could happen. In 2011, he lost a 35-second lead in the Vail Time Trial, and in 2012, he lost the lead on a climb outside of Boulder and was unable to make up the time on eventual winner Christian Vande Velde.
“This is bike racing,” he said. “I’m expecting an aggressive ride from Tom and his guys. It took me a long time to forget that 2011 ride. Last year, I’ve got to say, was equally disappointing because it looked like I had a firm grip on the win and then lost it on the Flagstaff climb. I’ve tasted it, and I feel like this year things are going my way.”