Philip Deignan: 'Rodriguez split my lip with a punch on climb'
Monday September 8, Stage 16: San Martín del Rey Aurelio - La Farrapona (160.5km)
Published 09/09/2014 | 02:30
I've come to the conclusion that the Vuelta a Espana should adopt Survivor's 'Eye Of The Tiger' as its theme song for this year's race.
While every race has its argy-bargy and there's rarely a sprint finish that goes by without someone being pushed or elbowed out of the way, this Vuelta seems to have gone mad altogether.
Today, Gianluca Brambilla of Omega Pharma Quickstep and Ivan Rovny of Tinkoff Saxo were thrown out of the race after they knocked lumps off each other in the break.
Having broken Rovny's glasses with a punch, Brambilla forged on with two others towards the end of the stage only to have the commissaires car pull alongside him with 15km to go and tell him his race was over, while Rovny was also sent home.
Although I'm not one to get involved in rows of any description on the bike, I've already seen first hand what the madness of competition can do.
Going over the top of the penultimate climb on Sunday, I had my team leader Chris Froome behind me and was moving up to get into the wheels of the Tinkoff-Saxo train at the front, which I was perfectly entitled to do.
As we hurtled along in the rain at around 50kph, Katusha's Spanish team leader Joaquin Rodriguez, who is fourth overall, took umbrage to my presence and nudged me out a little bit. So I held my ground and nudged him back.
As we continued riding, suddenly, out of the blue, Rodriguez turned towards me and punched me full in the face, splitting my lip and leaving me both stunned and fuming. Thankfully an immediate desire to knock the little Spanish climber out was quelled and I had the restraint and presence of mind to realise that hitting him in such treacherous conditions would only worsen the situation and endanger the riders around us.
As Rodriguez' punch was greeted with a chorus of shouts from the rest of the peloton, I warned him that I'd deal with him off the bike.
After the stage, I was so angry that all I wanted to do was find him and show him what a couple of years training in Letterkenny Boxing Club had taught me, but as the evening wore on I began to realise it wasn't worth stooping to his level.
As much as I'd have loved to have cornered him in the hotel last night, I knew that nothing good could come of it; either for myself or the team, so when his directeur sportif marched him over to our bus before the start today and made him apologise, I swallowed my pride and simply let it go.
But the incident gave me even more motivation to see Chris put time into him today.
With five serious mountains, four of which were first category ascents, en route to today's summit finish at La Ferrapona, today's stage was the toughest on this Vuelta so far.
Along with my Sky teammates Pete Kennaugh and 'Kosta' Suitsov, my role today was to try and get up the road in the early breakaway, but that plan went out the window as soon as we hit the first category Alto de la Colladona straight after the start.
While Pete managed to jump clear in a little group of 10 or 12 guys, Rodriguez inflicted more pain on me this morning as his Katusha team led the chase at the front.
When Contador, Valverde and Chris all jumped across to the break near the top there was panic stations in the bunch before the trio agreed it was a bit early for all out warfare and drifted back to the peloton.
With the panic over, Katusha eased up a bit but the fast start and steep incline left me feeling terrible for the first half of the race.
On the third climb of the day, the first category Alto de la Cobortoria, after 90km, while the rest of my teammates sat behind the Katusha train at the front I went out the back 3km from the summit.
Still in among the cavalcade of team cars going over the top though, I got back on quite easily on the descent and actually started to come around by the time we reached the foot of the penultimate climb, with 50km to go.
As Chris said he felt good here, I joined the guys in their pace setting on the front in an effort to isolate the other team leaders.
I led the bunch over the top before downing a bottle and an energy gel on the descent in readiness for the final assault.
On the front again with 10km to go though, I got a slow puncture in my front wheel.
Knowing that once I stopped, I wouldn't be able to get back up to Chris on the climb, I kept riding and got another couple of kilometres out of it before I had to stop.
Up ahead, Chris dropped everybody bar Contador in the last 5km to finish second on the stage and is now just three seconds of Valverde's second place overall while he gained almost a minute on Rodriguez on the climb.
Afterwards, the first three got a helicopter transfer to the next hotel while we had have a four hour drive ahead of us.
The second rest day tomorrow means the end is in sight and, after Chris' ride today, it's still all to play for in the final week.