US rider wears polka dot jersey
Updated: July 10, 2011, 17:45
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SAINT-FLOUR, France (AP) Tour de France fans are used to seeing an American wearing the yellow jersey.
But polka dots?
No American has ever won the red-and-white spotted jersey awarded by the race's best mountain climber.
Tejay van Garderen is showing indications that he could become the first.
Van Garderen spent Sunday in the distinctive shirt for the first time, leading out the peloton's ceremonial start alongside the yellow, green and white jersey holders.
The 22-year-old Van Garderen nabbed the polka dot jersey a day earlier as reward for his nearly daylong breakaway with nine other riders in Saturday's stage in the mountains of France's Massif Central.
He only got to wear it for a day - at least this time.
Johnny Hoogerland of the Netherlands took the jersey after being part of an early breakaway that stayed in front over the day's eight categorized climbs, scooping up all the points.
Van Garderen, a Tacoma, Wash., native, is the third-youngest rider in this year's Tour and downplayed his chances of earning the title as best climber this year. He's more focused on working for team leader Mark Cavendish and Tony Martin, HTC's best hopes for a high placing in the overall classification.
"The team has other goals, with Cavendish, and Tony and Peter (Velits) for GC, so you can't do too much,'' Van Garderen said.
But when the chance came up Saturday, Van Garderen answered.
"Up the (category 2) climb the peloton was getting kind of close so I went on the attack,'' Van Garderen said. "The points were there to take, so I figured why not?''
The American, who is riding in his first Tour, now sits in 55th place overall, 15 minutes, 16 seconds behind leader Thomas Voeckler.
Van Garderen is one of the record-tying 10 Americans to start this year's Tour. The U.S. contingent was reduced to eight Sunday when Garmin Cervelo rider Dave Zabriskie retired after crashing at the bottom of the Pas-de-Peyrol in a pileup that also sent Alexandre Vinokourov and Jurgen Van den Broeck to the hospital. American Chris Horner crashed out in stage seven.
Van Garderen said the polka dot jersey was a good morale booster, after rougher going earlier in the race's first week.
"Just the other day when it was raining, I was a little nervous in the peloton, I couldn't quite get up there to help in the bunch sprint,'' he said. "I was a little bummed out after that. And then today was a good day.''
While his run in polka dots only lasted a day, Van Garderen wouldn't mind wearing the jersey again.
"Polka dots, they never go out of fashion,'' Van Garderen said.
Greg Keller can be reached at http://twitter.com/Greg-Keller