Last night we had our usual team debriefing after the first week of this Vuelta. Although we still haven't managed to pull off a stage win, we've been riding well, with some good results on stages.
Having started the race with Rinaldo Nocentini and John Gadret as team leaders, we lost John today to sickness. He hasn't slept in two or three nights with pains in his stomach and is going home to get it checked out now.
Obviously, Rinaldo has been going well and is still the main leader of the team. As Ag2r try to collect some precious UCI points towards their world rankings for next season the focus will be on supporting him, but the guys will continue to give me a hand whenever they can and I will continue to try and win a stage.
We are currently second overall in the team GC, but with the UCI points having been done away with recently for the team classification, it's a bonus rather than a priority for us in this race.
Everybody was really worried about the early part of today's 'flat' stage, which began with a 7km climb. I even noticed a few guys warming up on home trainers before the start, which is always an indication that things are going to kick off early.
The start was really fast again but luckily enough just two guys went clear over the top of the climb and they were allowed their freedom. As the peloton eased up, I stopped for a wee on the descent with about 50 other guys, including race leader Joaquim Rodriguez, Alejandro Valverde and most of the top half of the general classification.
Our call of nature was interrupted with the news in our team earpieces that Niki Terpstra of Omega Pharma Quickstep had attacked and the bunch were strung out behind him. Soon there was a bunch of us chasing the rest of the peloton and it took us about 15km to regain contact.
As the peloton settled down again, Philippe Gilbert of BMC rode up alongside me. Gilbert was the undisputed star of last season, winning almost every classic, but this year he had no victories to his name until Sunday, where he rode away from me on the final climb, linked up with Rodriguez and outsprinted the Spaniard for the stage.
Even though I was really disappointed not to have the legs to stay with him, I tweeted afterwards that it was good to see him get his first win of the season. The former Belgian champion thanked me for the comment and we had a bit of a chat.
Gilbert is one of those guys I've known for a long time in the bunch and he's always the same. Even though he has become a big star in recent years, he's a nice guy and there's no airs and graces about him.
The final 35km today saw the speed ramped up violently as we rode along the open coast and various teams tried to split the race in the wind coming off the sea. In the final sprint, Matteo Montaguti gave our sprinter Lloyd Mondory a hand while myself and Nocentini stayed out of trouble, crossing the line together in 34th and 35th place as German John Degenkolb won for a fourth time.
Lloyd was a bit peeved at not having finished higher than sixth on the stage, but he seemed to calm down a bit when I reminded him that this isn't some little race, this is the Vuelta and sixth place on a stage is a good result for anybody.
Last night we also watched a video of the route of the time trial and we've already covered a bit of it on the bike and will get to see it again before riding it tomorrow. For now, the plan is to ride the best time trial I can.
Of course I'm worried that a lot of guys behind me are good against the clock and a bad ride could see me drop down the standings, but I hope the course, which is a bit more technical and hillier than the Tour TT, will suit me better and I'll stay in contention.
Although my ultimate goal for the team is to win a stage, I don't want to give up my high GC position to do so, even if it would make the task a bit easier. Some riders who ride big three-week Tours with the sole aim of winning a stage lose time on purpose on certain days, sparing their energy for an all-out assault on whatever stage they feel they have a chance to win. But I can't do that.
I prefer to continue to ride hard for the overall classification and try to go for a stage at the same time. I realise the fact that I'm not too far down on the race leader means I won't be given much rope, but that's the way I won a stage in Beijing last year and I will try to do the same here.
Whilst I'm seventh overall, I'm also riding freer and have been making those extra efforts to try and capture a win. If I lose time in the next two weeks it won't be a disaster, but nor will it be on purpose. I won't be saving my legs, I'll just be having a bad day.
Vuelta a Espana
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