August 30 – Stage 7: Almendralejo to Mairena de Aljarafe 205.9km
Every evening our Saxo-Tinkoff team staff calculate how long it will take us to get to the stage start the next day. We're all told what time the bus is leaving the next morning and we usually have ample time to arrive well before the start.
This morning, however, there was a bit of a panic on the 110km transfer from our hotel to the stage start when the GPS on the team bus calculated that we hadn't allowed ourselves enough time and were going to be late for the start.
We all tried to be as ready as possible so that we could jump out of the bus and straight on to our team bikes if necessary but the nearer we got to the start town, the more we realised that the GPS was wrong and we were actually going to arrive early.
When we parked the bus, I took the opportunity to walk around the Vuelta start village for the first time, which was a bit smaller and quieter than the Tour de France village, while my Danish team-mate Michael Morkov had extra time to do a few TV interviews after his win yesterday.
I had my first puncture of the Vuelta today. My back wheel went flat with about 80km to go, but as the pace wasn't too fast at the time there was no real panic getting back.
Because I am third overall, our team car is number three in the cavalcade behind the peloton so there was no pressure and no need for any of the guys to wait for me.
I got a quick wheel change and then jumped from car to car, using each one as shelter from the wind for a few seconds before riding back into the peloton where Nicki Sorensen and Matteo Tosatto took me up the outside in their slipstream and up to the front.
Marco Pinotti of BMC, Christian Knees of Sky and Francisco Armendia of Caja Rural had already gone clear after 11km. The trio had a decent lead of around five minutes after 100km but, with the sprinters sniffing the scent of another stage win as we neared the line, they were reeled in with 17km to go.
In the last 20km or so, I wasted a bit of energy fighting for position and riding out in the wind because the finish was so narrow and twisty, with so many roundabouts. I was more worried about crashes than losing a few seconds in a split in the peloton.
With such a high number of roundabouts in the last few kilometres, there was always the chance that one of them would have oil or diesel on it and that one of the guys diving into them was going to come down.
It wasn't easy to stay at the front because the sprinters were all fighting for position, but I was so afraid in some of those corners that it was better to expend a bit of energy than hit the deck.
Unfortunately, my cousin Dan Martin did just that with around 11km to go. I'm not really sure what happened but I saw an ambulance beside the Garmin Sharp team bus as I rode back from the podium afterwards.
I rode over and tried to peer in to see if Dan was in it but I couldn't see in the window. Having taken a break after the Tour, Dan was just returning to good form again and was looking forward to the mountains at the weekend. He probably went to hospital for scans and hopefully he will be able to continue.
With 9km to go, world champion Philippe Gilbert and Czech rider Zdenek Stybar put in a clever little dig on a narrow 200m-long drag just as the Orica GreenEdge team had begun to fade on the climb and the speed dropped maybe a kilometre or two per hour.
They had eight or nine seconds before everyone got organised again and that was it, they were gone.
As Stybar edged out Gilbert in a photo finish, one second ahead of the peloton, I crossed the line in 27th place and held on to my third place overall.
We're back in the mountains again tomorrow, with a 14km-long, first-category ascent to Alto Penas Blancas at the finish. I haven't done the climb before but I've had a couple of quieter days now and I'm feeling good.
A lot of overall contenders for the Vuelta are already in the top 10 by now and while I can't see a huge change tomorrow, it will be interesting to see which one is stronger than the other.
At the moment, my Saxo-Tinkoff team also have Rafal Majka in ninth and Roman Kreuziger in 10th. With 33 riders within two minutes of the leader Nibali, though, I think some guys will lose five or six places tomorrow, while others will gain five or six places.
I still lead the King of the Mountains and the combined classifications and will wear the polka-dots of best climber tomorrow. I'm not really thinking about holding on to it, though; I'm just focused on doing a good ride for the overall classification and after that, hopefully, the rest will come naturally.
Vuelta a Espana,
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