'The food has been brutal in the hotel so the HTC team chef took pity on us'
Published 02/09/2011 | 05:00
Along with the HTC team, my Ag2r La Mondiale squad have been staying in the same motorway hotel-cum-garage forecourt for the past three nights and the smell of petrol everywhere is starting to get to me a bit now.
My girlfriend Chiara is still on the race but the only time I get to see her is at dinner and breakfast. While I'm racing, she is with the soigneurs, helping them at the feed zone. At the finish, she gets the guys drinks and food to pass the time. Then she has to wait for me to get showered, changed and have a massage before we go to dinner.
After the stage yesterday we had an hour and a half drive back to the hotel on really narrow, winding mountain roads and didn't get dinner until 10.30. The food has been brutal in the hotel, so last night the HTC team chef took pity on us and gave us some of their dinner. Some teams bring their own chef on every race, but we've never had one. As luck would have it, myself and Chiara had already eaten the shrivelled-up hotel pasta and missed out, but the guys said HTC's was way nicer.
After the break went clear about 15km in today, half of the peloton took advantage of the lull in pace to stop for a pee. As it was lashing rain just before the start, I had begun the stage with an undervest on for the first time in this Vuelta, but the rain stopped just before the start and I was roasting after the constant chasing and attacking of the early kilometres.
I whipped my jersey off at the side of the road, took off the undervest and began to ride back through the cars. This manoeuvre took so long that most of the team cars had gone past me by the time I had changed.
My team-mates Dimitri Champion and Cyril Dessel had stopped for a pee too, and this, combined with the pedestrian pace in the bunch, meant there was no real panic and they rode back with me, and I threw the vest in the window of the team car as I rode past.
I spoke to Garmin's Christophe Le Mevel for a minute on a climb. We were talking about how well my cousin Dan Martin was holding his form when suddenly he rode past us, looking very serious. In pro cycling, every team puts their prize money into a pot after each race and it's split between all the riders and staff.
"There's the guy who's going to be paying for your holidays to the Seychelles this year," I said to Le Mevel of the money Dan had earned for his stage win, but Dan was too focused to even hear me and I didn't get a rise out of him.
When the break got eight minutes, things began to hot up in the bunch. We caught the last of the quartet inside the final 10km and with top sprinters Mark Cavendish, Tyler Farrar and Matti Breschel out of the race, it was a free-for-all at the front.
There was a lot of pushing and shoving. I had decided not to take part in the sprint in case there was another crash like the one on the last flat day.
But I didn't realise the finish was so hard and in hindsight, I probably should have had a go as it suited me. I crossed the line in 27th place but there was a five-second time split between winner Peter Sagan and my portion of the bunch. If I'd stayed in the top 14, I'd have moved up one place to 17th overall.
Dan finished 47th and lost 11 seconds but it's not really that important in the grand scheme of things, as we head back into the mountains again.
Sunday's stage to Angliru is really hard and even though I finished 14th there a few years ago, I lost five minutes to stage winner Alberto Contador, so five seconds today is not too worrying.
Vuelta a Espana,
Live, Eurosport 2, 3.0