Nicolas Roche: 'I was catapulted across the road and landed under a tree'
Liege - Bastogne - Liege Diary
Sunday May 25: Liege - Bastogne - Liege (254km)
Having checked out some of the cobbled sections that will feature in this year's Tour de France with team leader Chris Froome last Thursday, Sergio Henao and I joined the rest of our Sky team-mates in Maastricht for a recon ride of the last 90km of Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Friday.
The oldest of the one day classics, 'La Doyenne' is also the toughest, with 10 categorised climbs, and numerous uncategorised ones, along its undulating 254km route.
As we rode up the infamous La Redoute on Friday, a climb where the race usually sparks into action, Philip Deignan and I reminisced about the last time we rode the race as team-mates for the amateur VC La Pomme squad in Marseille. Back then both of us were going really well and made it into the five-man break in the U-23 race.
Going over the top of La Redoute, we attacked the group and escaped together only to go the wrong way shortly afterwards and lose any hope of an Irish one-two. That ride gave me hope that I could get a good result in the pro race at some point and, as one of three protected riders for Team Sky in this year's edition, it was my first real chance to see what I could do.
Aussie Nathan Earle was assigned to look after me for the day; keep me fed and watered and out of the wind, while Philip and American Danny Pate were to do the same for Norwegian Lars Petter Nordhaug and Colombian Sergio Henao.
Our two Belarusians; Vasil Kiryienka and Kanstantsin Siutsou were to give us a hand when we hit the hills in the final 30km.
The break went around 40km into today's race and opened a huge gap of eight minutes before Europcar hit the front of the peloton and, after 50km of chasing, chopped six minutes off their lead.
"Why are you guys riding so hard?" I asked Tommy Voeckler. "There's still 150km to go."
"We want to catch them before the first climbs," was his response.
With 80km remaining, the lead group were just half a minute clear and each new climb brought fresh attacks. Having stayed near the front all day, my aim was to conserve energy for the last few kilometres but when 30 riders went clear on the Cote de la Haut-Levee with 70km to go, I had to make the effort to get across to them.
With our group caught shortly after and fresh attacks pulling clear, Sergio, Lars and I were well placed near the front alongside 'Kyri' and 'Kosta' as we went down a little descent on a big, wide road heading towards La Redoute with 40km remaining.
Riders that had been dropped on the previous climb were surging back up on the descent, trying to get back to their team leaders at the front, when Japanese rider Yukiya Arashiro of Europcar suddenly came around me and dived into the middle of the bunch.
He touched off a Lampre rider and both of them went down, right in front of me.
In the collision, Arashiro's bike hit mine and catapulted me across the road, where I landed under a tree on the grass verge as a Garmin-Cannondale rider rode into my back and flipped over me.
For a few seconds I didn't know what had happened and was confused when a stranger in a red jacket leaned over me to see if I was okay.
The spectator's face was soon replaced by those of my team mechanic and the race doctor, who removed my helmet and checked me over before tending to Arashiro who was lying prone beside me.
One of my team coaches arrived next and upon seeing the blood streaming from my right eyebrow and the glazed look in my eyes asked me a few questions.
"Are you okay Nico?"
"Yeah, I think so," I groaned.
"What's my name?"
"What race are you riding?"
Normally when you crash, the instinct is to get up, grab your bike and hop back on it. You only think about your injuries during the chase back on. But because I'd hit my head, I wasn't alert enough to jump straight back up.
My foot was numb because it was caught up against a tree trunk, which was lucky because behind that was a sharp drop into a gravel-strewn stream, where one of the other crash victim's bike's landed.
I banged my head and shoulder quite hard and had constricted my muscles to protect myself in the fall, but after a couple of minutes my body began to relax and I was able to walk over to the team car.
At the top of La Redoute, I transferred into a second team car which brought me back to the bus at the finish where the team doctor examined me.
I have two paper stitches above my eye, a few bruises from the tumble in the grass and a few cuts from the tangle with my bike, including a nice new chainring mark down my shin. My cheek bone is swollen and red so I'll probably have a black eye in the morning but it could have been a lot worse. Arashiro has a broken collarbone.
My Belgian friends Pierrot and Jeff, who have supported my since I was a junior rider, kindly drove me to the airport afterwards for my flight to Geneva, where I start the Tour of Romandie on Tuesday.