Nicolas Roche: 'Various riders peeled their bikes off me'
Wednesday May 18, Stage 11: Modena to Asolo (229km)
Having lost team leader Mikel Landa to illness yesterday, our team goals have changed for the rest of this Giro, with the rest of us given the freedom to aim for stage wins between now and Sunday week.
This morning my German team-mate Christian Knees was keen to get up the road and was the first rider to attack as we left Modena for the longest stage of this Giro. Although we had 229km to ride, you'd never have guessed it by the way things kicked off this morning.
With a pan-flat opening 200km ahead of us before we hit the fourth-category climb of Forcella Mostacon and two smaller climbs in the finale, it seemed everybody wanted to get up the road.
The big main road of Modena wasn't conducive to escape, though, making it difficult for any team to control things, so the attacks kept coming and the speed was so high that we covered almost 53km in the first hour of racing.
Kneesy had a good few goes and Ian Boswell and I tried a few times but it wasn't until 75km into proceedings, when we turned onto narrower roads, that a three-man group jumped up the road and there was big slowdown in the peloton.
By the time we got to the feed zone 25km later, where former race leader Tom Dumoulin climbed off due to a saddle sore, the three escapees had over eight minutes' advantage before the Lampre and Trek Segafredo teams set about the chase.
My team-mates and I just tried to stick together as a team, with the aim of having a dig on the climb with 29km remaining. A few kilometres away from that climb, everybody rushed to get into position at the front and there was a huge swell in the peloton, causing a crash on the left-hand side of the road.
Although I was over on the right hand side, the crash had a domino effect and the wave instantly rippled its way across to me.
It was one of those crashes that happen so quickly you don't even have time to react, and almost instantly I was on the ground surrounded by bodies and bikes.
I don't know how I managed it but I ended up on the tarmac with my leg in between the handlebars of Jakob Fuglsang's bike and my own.
I had to wait in that position for a while until various riders peeled their bikes off me and I found room to stand up.
So many riders fell that most of the road was blocked, with Leigh Howard of IAM ending up knee deep in the river that ran alongside the grass verge. The Aussie didn't seem too fazed, and even spent a few seconds fishing his sunglasses out of the water before remounting.
Boz and Christian fell in the same crash and by the time I got my leg out of the pile up and untangled my bike, Boz was waiting to pace me back into the peloton as Christian waited for a replacement for his broken bike from the team car.
After putting my chain back on the big ring and remounting, I realised my rear derailleur wasn't working and I couldn't change gears. As we use Shimano Di2 electronic gears at Sky, I figured that the crash had disconnected the cable either at the back derailleur, or where it met the handlebars.
Luckily, it was the latter so I was able to plug it in on the move and keep going.
As I followed Boz, former race leader Ginaluca Brambilla came past us behind two of his Ettix Quickstep team-mates so we jumped on the back of their train and made our way up to the second half of the peloton, which had split after the crash.
We made the juncture just as we hit the bottom of the climb, with the front portion still over a minute clear.
I began to ride hard on the climb in the hope of getting back to the front and being able to contest a finish that looked, on paper at least, as if it would suit me, but David Lopez was riding alongside me and knew it was a lost cause. He told me to ease up.
With lots of little groups getting dropped between us and the front of the race and the adrenaline off the crash now gone, I realised there was no way I was going to be able to make it across to the front, copped myself on and took his advice.
A few kilometres later, I was greeted by the first Irish fans of this Giro. In the past two weeks the sun faded red of the Italian tricolour has often made me look twice at groups of fans but today there was no mistaking the green, white and orange.
With my stage all but over, I took my bottle out of the cage on my frame and threw it to them as a gesture of appreciation for the support.
Thankfully I've only picked up a few cuts and grazes on my forearm and a bruise on my leg where it was caught in between bikes today and I'll live to fight another day.
Giro d'Italia, Live, Eurosport, 1.30pm