Philip Deignan - "A jammed chain ended my efforts"
Tuesday August 26, Stage 4: Mairena del Alcor to Cordoba (164.7km)
As my Sky team have been staying in the same hotel since we arrived in Spain last Wednesday, this morning was the first time I've had to pack up my suitcase and have it ready for the team soigneurs after breakfast.
You relax a bit more when you stay in a hotel for more than one night on a race, but it's also pretty easy to let your room turn into a bomb site.
I've been rooming on this Vuelta with Christian Knees, a stereotypically tidy, neat and efficient German powerhouse, so our room has been reasonably well kept. Over the years I've come to realise that the messier your room gets, the easier it is to lose stuff and you don't want to end up in the next town without your shoes or wash bag or something.
The heat on this Vuelta has been unbelievable so far and with the mercury hitting 40 degrees in Mairena del Alcor this morning, my Sky team-mates and I left the start line with huge wet sponges dripping down the back of our jerseys in an effort to keep cool.
Unsurprisingly, there wasn't much reaction when four riders jumped clear from the gun so I spent the next 10km or so catching up with a few friends in the peloton.
After his second place yesterday, I wasn't sure whether to congratulate or commiserate with Dan Martin but he was in good spirits this morning and we had a bit of a laugh for a few minutes as the race sorted itself out.
With two climbs coming in the last 65km today, the team plan today was to make sure our leader Chris Froome got over them both towards the front of the race and didn't get caught out by any attacks.
After a steady tempo on the third category Alto de San Geronimo, Alberto Contador's Tinkoff-Saxo team split the peloton into five groups on a crosswind section on the descent. One of the Quickstep guys crashed right in front of me on one of the corners but I managed to stay upright, only to get my first puncture of this Vuelta at the bottom, with 50km to go.
Because the race was split into so many groups, I took a new back wheel from neutral service rather than waiting on my team car to come up and began to chase immediately. Thankfully, about 5km later, we turned into a headwind and there was a big regrouping before we went out onto the 37km finishing circuit.
As I made my way back on I could feel my gears weren't shifting quite right but there was no time to change wheels again as we were approaching the final climb of the day. I hit the front of the peloton at the bottom of the second category Alto de Catorce por Ciento with about 35km to go and set a steady tempo in order to keep Chris towards the front before my Belarussian team-mate Vasil Kiryienka took over a few kilometres later.
I sat behind 'Kosta' Siutsou, third wheel in the line as we climbed, with Chris and our Spanish climber Mikel Nieve behind me.
'Kiry' set a pretty good tempo for the next 3km of the ascent but with 29km to go the Movistar team went past us and upped the pace.
With only myself and Nieve left with Chris, I stayed to the right of the Movistar guys, with Chris on my wheel to keep him sheltered from the wind. I was running low on drinks and the heat was so extreme that I did something I don't normally do and grabbed a bottle of water from a spectator, gulping it down on the ascent.
Just as I had taken my last swig of water, my chain suddenly jumped over the top of the last sprocket in my back wheel and jammed between the cassette and the spokes, bringing me to an abrupt halt in front of everyone.
With riders flying past me, I jumped off to try to pull the chain back out of the spokes but by the time I had done it my race was over, with 25km still to go.
I found myself in a group of about 10 or 12 riders, mostly sprinters like Nacer Bouhanni and Tom Boonen, but Colombian climber Julian Arredondo, who won the Giro stage where I was third in May, was also there. He told me he was taking it easy and would just be going for stages later on in this Vuelta.
Although the race was won in a sprint by John Degenkolb of Giant Shimano today, Dan Martin showed a great turn of speed to get fifth, while Chris and Mikel also finished in the group, losing no time.
Chris is up to 15th overall now, 35 seconds behind race leader Michael Matthews.
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