MORRO BAY, Calif. — Tejay van Garderen thought he had lost his overall race lead in the Tour of California after a string of bad luck in the final couple of miles Wednesday.
The race jury gave it right back a couple hours later.
Tour organizers issued a controversial statement that said a major crash near the finish that held up van Garderen and many other top contenders would be treated “such that all riders affected by the incident and the road blockage will receive the field time,” effectively giving van Garderen the lead back.
That rule is designed to protect overall leaders from the chaos that comes in the final 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) of a race, when sprints often lead to crashes. But the crash in California occurred just outside of the 3-kilometer-to-go mark, putting the decision of the commissaires into a harsh spotlight.
They did not provide the reasoning behind their decision.
Regardless, it meant that rather than falling to 13th place and 47 seconds behind Kasper Asgreen for the race lead, van Garderen kept his yellow jersey by 6 seconds over Gianni Moscon – a rider who also was held up by the pileup.
“When they told me I was back in yellow, I was surprised,” van Garderen said. “I thought it was bad luck, and then they decided to give us the time from the crash because we were back on. I just have to applaud their decision.”
It didn’t change the fact that Fabio Jakobsen won the stage with an inspired uphill sprint, the third straight for his Deceuninck Quick-Step team this week – all by different riders. Or that Jasper Philipsen finished second on the stage to give embattled UAE Team Emirates something positive, and that three-time world champion Peter Sagan took third to assume the sprinter’s green jersey.
It changed just about everything else, though.
“Sometimes the cards fall your way,” van Garderen said.
Emirates pressed on Wednesday without climbing specialist Kristijan Durasek, who was implicated in an Austrian investigation into doping earlier in the day. The 31-year-old Durasek is accused of using a “prohibited method” during the 2017 season, the sixth cyclist to be ensnared in the scandal.
He has been provisionally suspended by the UCI, the sport’s world governing body, and the team has sent him back to Europe to cooperate with the far-reaching investigation.
Back in California, van Garderen had steered clear of trouble while the peloton brought back the day’s early breakaway. But his chain snapped with about 5 miles to go, sending the 2013 race winner to the pavement. His teammate, Lachlan Morton, was there to give van Garderen his bike, and several more teammates dropped back in a desperate attempt to pace van Garderen back to the field.
Then he inexplicably missed a hard right-hand corner with a couple miles to go, and the controversial crash just as van Garderen was catching the field slowed him down again, apparently dashing his hopes of holding onto his lead.
It wasn’t until much later that the commissaires delivered their decision, though they did not say why the extended the 3-kilometer rule to where the crash took place.
The fifth stage Thursday is a hilly, 138-mile affair that takes the peloton from Pismo Beach to the beach town of Ventura. The stage includes a short, steep climb near the finish that could prove crucial for riders trying to make up ground on van Garderen in the overall standings.
“It’s going to be a long stage. For sure there will be climbs again, I don’t know how many. It will be six hours,” Jakobsen said. “I hope tomorrow the sun shines again.”
The three-stage women’s Tour of California also gets going with an out-and-back stage centered on Ventura. American climber Katie Hall is back to defend her overall title, but the race’s status part of the Women’s WorldTour means the field is loaded with more big names than ever before.
Among them are Hall’s teammate, Anna Van der Breggen, a stout Trek-Segafredo team headed by former world champion Lizzie Deignan, and climber Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio of Team CCC-Liv.