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'A guy in front of me clipped the kerb and crashed'

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Italy’s Davide Cimolai celebrates as he crosses the finish line, Australia’s Michael Matthews during Stage 5 of the Paris-Nice race

Italy’s Davide Cimolai celebrates as he crosses the finish line, Australia’s Michael Matthews during Stage 5 of the Paris-Nice race

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Italy’s Davide Cimolai celebrates as he crosses the finish line, Australia’s Michael Matthews during Stage 5 of the Paris-Nice race

Friday March 13, Stage 5: Saint Etienne to Rasteau (192.5km): Even though we only had a 15km transfer after yesterday's stage it took us ages to get to our next hotel due to a huge backlog of traffic around Saint Etienne.

When we arrived we got a massage and had an early dinner at 7.30 which included a toast to Richie Porte's stage win yesterday that saw the Australian and Geraint Thomas leapfrog into second and third place overall.

The fact that the first category ascent of the Col de la Republique came straight after the drop of the flag today saw me adjust my pre-stage routine slightly.

I didn't want to have a full stomach when we attacked the mountain, so I went down for breakfast a bit earlier this morning to give myself extra time to digest my food and ensure that I wouldn't be seeing it again on the road as we climbed.

We cycled the kilometre or so down to the start, where after a quick pre-stage meeting on the bus my team-mates and I spent 15 minutes or so on the turbo trainer to get ready for action.

I think everyone was expecting a hard start this morning and most teams were doing the same thing. Seven kilometres of neutralised roads before the official start though meant I was well warmed up before the actual racing began.

The neutralised section was actually pretty nervy this morning with lots of narrow one way streets, tram lines, traffic islands and even kerbs to be negotiated as we made our way out of the city.

The early kilometres were a bit livelier than the past couple of days and by the time we got to the top of the 10km mountain, five riders had gone clear including King of the Mountains leader Thomas de Gendt of Lotto-Soudal.

De Gendt added more points to his mountains tally at the summit while my Welsh team-mate Luke Rowe drifted back to the team car and grabbed some rain jackets for the rest of us so that we wouldn't get cold on the 25km downhill section that followed.

With Andrew Talansky of Garmin-Cannondale in the breakaway, the American became virtual race leader on the road when their advantage went out to over 3'35", his overnight deficit on race leader Michal Kwiatkowski, so when they got around four minutes advantage Kwiatkowski's Ettix-Quickstep squad hit the front of the peloton and began to chase.

LEASH

As well as keeping Talansky on a short leash they also knew that keeping the gap small would encourage the sprinters' teams to take over at the front as the stage end neared and they sensed another mass sprint finish.

For my Sky team today, Brad Wiggins and Christian Knees did an amazing job riding on the edge of the road and taking the brunt of the wind as the rest of us sheltered in behind them for most of the stage.

There was a big crash in the peloton as we went through a village with 30km to go but thanks to Brad and Christian we were all up the front and didn't even know that the bunch had split into four or five groups until the guys in the team car told us in our earpieces.

When Brad finally pulled over with about 10km to go, Luke brought Richie, 'G' and our sprinter Ben Swift into the last few kilometres as various teams surged forward after the remnants of the breakaway group, which hovered about 30 seconds up the road.

With around three-and-a-half kilometres remaining though, we went through another little village and suddenly came to a curve in the street where a thin strip of kerbstone replaced the white line in the middle of the road.

We were riding flat out into the corner when somebody about 20 places in front of me clipped the kerb and crashed.

Having slammed on the brakes, I was happy in the knowledge that I would come to a stop before the crash, but was a bit worried that other riders behind me might have their heads down. Someone running into the back of you can often do more damage than falling and as I skidded to a halt, I was wary of getting walloped with a bike from behind.

Thankfully, I was able to get around the crash safely but the bunch had split in two again and I rode to the line in the second part.

Although the crash was just outside the 3km to go mark, the race referees decided to give the same time to those who crashed.

Unfortunately for sole surviving escapee De Gendt, he was only caught with 200m to go and Italian Davide Cimolai of Lampre-Merida won the stage while Swifty took 11th and Richie and 'G' held onto their overall positions.

For me, the plan was to take it easy today ahead of tomorrow's mountain stage, where I will be called on to help Richie and 'G' on a tough route that includes three first category and two second category climbs on the way to Nice.

With a four hour transfer this afternoon, Richie and I are in the car so that we can get to the hotel half an hour quicker than the guys on the bus and get massage first.

Apart from the few who can expect to do well in Sunday's final mountain time trial, tomorrow is the last chance saloon for everyone else to either win a stage or move up the overall standings.

We did a recon ride of the stage a week or so ago, so we know what's on the menu. With two riders within three seconds of the race lead, we're in a very good position but tomorrow is going to be tough.

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