Van Garderen (EF Education First) had almost regained contact with the charging peloton following an earlier panic when he was held up by a big crash within the final 5km of the stage Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) won in a sprint.
It was initially announced that the American had finished the 214.5km race some 50 seconds in arrears of Jakobsen, whose teammate Kasper Asgreen would assume the lead as van Garderen had not got back onto the bunch in time to come under the 3km rule.
The 30-year-old had stood outside his team van in the immediate aftermath of the stage, which followed the rugged California coastline, consoled by his wife before he went inside to change and treat his left knee that was bloodied.
EF Education First sports director Charly Wegelius addressed media waiting in the team paddock about the perceived loss before it was then reported that officials had overturned the decision.
Van Garderen spoke to the press after a local broadcaster confirmed he was leader, with organisers about 30 minutes later issuing an official statement that some pundits disregarded as nonsense and an unjust stretch of the 3km rule.
“The mass crash near the finish of Stage 4 was just outside of 3km to go. The commissaires have decided to treat the crash such that all riders affected by the incident and the road blockage will receive field time,” the statement read.
It was estimated about a third of the peloton was involved in the pile-up.
The melee came after van Garderen crashed in an isolated incident due to a mechanical within the final 10km and jumped on teammate Lachlan Morton’s bike in a desperate attempt to protect his standing. Almost the entire EF Education First team rallied around the former tour champion to pace him back on before he went off course again.
“I think the later crash was probably due to the fact he was on Lachlan’s bike and he has the brakes the other way around,” Wegelius said.
“Either way it goes, it’s always unnerving to sit for six hours in a headwind, have absolutely nothing happen and then have things go haywire at the end.
“It’s unsettling of course because everything is going swimmingly. Jersey or no jersey, hitting the asphalt doesn’t help. We’ll go from here.”