Nicolas Roche: 'Geraint flew off the road and smacked his head on a pole'
Published 21/07/2015 | 02:30
Monday July 20, Stage 16: Bourg-de-Peage to Gap (210km)
On the last day of racing before the second rest day of this Tour, we expected attacks on Chris Froome's yellow jersey towards the end of today's stage, where the descent off the second category Col de Manse came just 10km from the finish in Gap.
As has been the case the past few days, the stage began with a flurry of attacks and a group of around 25 riders went clear in the opening couple of kilometres.
When we heard on the team radio that Tony Gallopin of Lotto-Soudal was in the break we knew we had to chase the move.
The Frenchman had begun the day in ninth place overall and, if we didn't bring back such a big group, he had the potential take a big chunk of time out of us by the end of the day.
We set a fast tempo at the front before Gallopin - possibly under duress from others in the break who knew we were chasing him and weren't too worried about the rest of them - eventually sat up and we caught him about 30km later.
With nobody else dangerous in the move, we were happy to just regroup and let it go, but the Etixx-Quickstep team came up to the front straight away and really lit it up.
With Astana and IAM Cycling then joining in the chase, they were absolutely smashing it and having covered 53km in the first hour of racing, we did another 50km in the second hour.
Unfortunately for Richie Porte, he suffered two punctures in that period and had a hard chase to get back on each time while the hard start forced Pete Kennaugh, who has been sick, to abandon the Tour with just five stages to go.
We continued to ride hard through the feed zone after 110km, before a bit of a truce enabled us to empty our feed bags and stock up for the day.
As we began to eat and drink and things calmed down a bit, I had a quick chat with Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde of Movistar and my former Tinkoff-Saxo team-mate Mick Rogers as we rolled along. Although we knew we would be battling each other for the rest of the race, the three of us were just looking forward to tomorrow's rest day after a tough two weeks in the saddle.
With the breakaway group now over 10 minutes ahead myself, Richie and 'G' (Geraint Thomas) stopped for a pee and later grabbed a few bottles for the others as Ian 'Yogi' Stannard and Luke Rowe led us towards the first of the day's two climbs, the second category Col de Cabre with 80km to go.
The lads set a good pace on the 9km climb and Luke had begun to lead us down the descent when we heard that G had punctured just after the top.
I don't know if there was something on the road at the summit but Ag2r and Movistar had trouble as well and it was strange to see so many riders puncturing in the same place.
We slowed down at the front to give G a chance to regain contact with the minimal amount of fuss before Yogi and Luke continued along the 40km plateau at the top before another descent leading to the final climb of the day.
By then, the drag race was back on as other teams came to the front in an effort to get to the Col de Manse in the best position possible.
The BMC team of third-placed Tejay van Garderen led us down what was a crazy descent, where a headwind saw a lot of teams shoot up the outside on the big wide road leading to the foot of the final climb, the summit of which came 11km from the finish.
I overshot a corner and went from the front of the bunch to the back in a couple of seconds but managed to make my way back up the outside and onto Wout Poels' wheel as he led us onto the bottom of the climb with 20km to go.
While the breakaway group was fighting out the stage win almost 20 minutes up the road, our fight to keep Froomey in yellow began on the last climb.
I wasn't feeling great today so I thought I'd ride in the early kilometres of the climb but I only got about a kilometre on the front before Roman Kreuziger and Alberto Contador of Tinkoff-Saxo hit the afterburners and blew the bunch to bits, leaving just an elite group of 13 riders at the front.
The pace was too hot for me and I rode to the top with Leo Konig for a while before a group of about 40 riders caught us on the descent and we sat in the wheels to the finish.
Up ahead, Froomey still had Wout and G with him and they managed to ride down attacks from Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Valverde before Nibali went clear on the descent and opened a small gap.
Even though Wout was dropped by the accelerations on the last climb he clawed his way back up every time and rode whenever he could, which was just as well because G was sent flying off the road on a bend by Warren Barguil. The French rider shot up the inside, overcooked it and used G as a buffer to stay upright, shouldering him off the road.
I saw the video of the crash on the bus afterwards and I have to say the more you look at it, the worse it looks.
G actually flew backwards into the crowd, smacking his head on a pole before hurtling down a little embankment behind a row of shocked spectators.
Thankfully he was okay and was able to remount, only losing 33 seconds to Froomey's group and holding onto sixth place overall at the end of the stage.
A teak tough Welshman with a great sense of humour, G was asked by British TV afterwards if he was suffering from concussion after the bang.
"I suppose somebody will come and ask me my name in a minute," he replied.
"Do you know it?" asked the commentator.
"Yeah. It's Chris Froome," he smiled before riding back to the bus.
After a hard two weeks, I'm looking forward to tomorrow's rest day now. I'll have to make the most of it as we head into the Alps on Wednesday.