- By Joe Lindsey
Going into the start of the 2012 Tour de France morale on the Garmin-Sharp team couldn’t have been better. The team was still riding the euphoria of its first Grand Tour win at the Giro d’Italia in May and had just secured a major new sponsorship with Sharp. Ryder Hesjedal had a solid prologue and the team was possessed of a sense of purpose and focus around supporting his hopes for the overall.
Those hopes are gone now, left on the roads outside Gorze, where, in a massive crash the lanky Canadian went down along with most of his team. Roughly half the field crashed or was caught behind the crash, including world champion Mark Cavendish (Sky), RadioShack-Nissan’s Frank Schleck, and dark horse Alejandro Valverde of Movistar.
As Orica-GreenEdge began to ride a fierce tempo on the front of the diminished pack, Garmin-Sharp struggled to regroup behind. The damage was immense. Hesjedal pedaled slowly, nursing obvious injuries.
Johan van Summeren’s jersey and shorts were torn up and he had angry red patches of road rash showing through. And Tom Danielson, who’d separated a shoulder in an earlier crash, was out altogether. Only Dave Zabriskie, in the breakaway for all but 7.5km of the stage, was untouched.
The official Tour medical communiqué reported that Van Summeren briefly lost consciousness in the crash and was disoriented on arrival and taken to a hospital; Danielson had a head injury with loss of consciousness.
“There was no chase,” a shattered Christian Vande Velde said when asked about the mood in the chasing group that came to the line 13 minutes after stage winner Peter Sagan of Liquigas-Cannondale.
Van Summeren rolled his bike to the team bus and handed it off to a mechanic before boarding without a word. A crumpled swatch of newspaper was stuck in the front wheel at the fork.
Aside from the team’s best-placed rider, Zabriskie, the enormity of the affair showed in the teams classification, which is calculated daily based on the top-three finishers of each team. Astana, in second to last, was a cumulative 11:59 down to the day’s best team, Orica-GreenEdge. Garmin-Sharp: 27:39 behind.
The crash capped off perhaps the toughest week in Garmin’s history. A brief recap:
On Tuesday, Danielson hit the deck on the nervous Stage 3, suffering what team doctor Prentice Steffen termed a moderate shoulder separation (which would eventually contribute to his abandon today).
Wednesday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport delivered a decision in the Alex Rasmussen case, reversing a lower ruling and suspending the Dane for 18 months (partly backdated) for missing three out-of-competition doping tests in 2010-2011 when he rode for HTC-Highroad. By UCI rules, a suspended rider’s contract is immediately void, and Garmin had to fire Rasmussen, who played an integral role in the team’s Giro team time trial stage win.
On Thursday morning, the team awoke to a story in Dutch daily De Telegraaf alleging that two of the team’s riders, Zabriskie and Vande Velde, along with manager Jonathan Vaughters, would be key witnesses in USADA’s anti-doping case against seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong, and that USADA had offered delayed and reduced sentences in exchange for cooperation.
Vaughters said no member of the team had been informed of any suspension of any length to be served at any date. Pointing to a 2010 statement released when news broke that Armstrong was under (then) federal criminal investigation, Vaughters reiterated the team’s firm commitment to riding clean, and all three named parties refused to confirm or deny that they were involved.
That afternoon, sprinter Tyler Farrar crashed heavily in the sprint while fighting for position with an Argos-Shimano rider and, as fans and journalists watched, angrily attempted to board the Argos team bus, shouting, “I want an explanation! You don’t do that to someone!” before being turned back to his bus by his own team’s staff.
Then came Friday’s abattoir. To add insult to injury, Zabriskie’s last-ditch attack out of the break was overhauled by the chasing pack inside 1km from the line.