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'Carrying bottles like having a sack of spuds on your back'

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'I dropped back to the team car and one by one, managed to stuff seven bottles, one for each of the guys, down the back of my jersey before making my way back to the front resembling a lycra-clad Quasimodo.' Picture credit: Stephen McMahon / SPORTSFILE

'I dropped back to the team car and one by one, managed to stuff seven bottles, one for each of the guys, down the back of my jersey before making my way back to the front resembling a lycra-clad Quasimodo.' Picture credit: Stephen McMahon / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

'I dropped back to the team car and one by one, managed to stuff seven bottles, one for each of the guys, down the back of my jersey before making my way back to the front resembling a lycra-clad Quasimodo.' Picture credit: Stephen McMahon / SPORTSFILE

My Sky team left our hotel a man down this morning after my former room-mate Christian Knees was pulled from the race by the team doctor.

Having spent most of the previous night projectile vomiting in our bathroom, Christian still couldn't keep anything down on yesterday's rest day so our team doctor wouldn't allow him to start the stage this morning.

Nobody knows where Christian picked up the bug but after almost three weeks of racing your body just gets run down and you can become susceptible to infections, which is why he was almost immediately quarantined and I've had my own room for the past two nights.

Although it's quieter rooming alone, I got on well with Christian over the past couple of weeks and I actually missed his German uber-tidiness and our pre-sleep chat last night.

BELGIAN

Driving to the start this morning there was a real Belgian feel to our surrounds and if I hadn't known better I could have sworn we were in the Ardennes. And the stage was pretty similar to the Liege-Bastogne-Liege, with constant ups and downs all day on pretty narrow, twisting country roads.

Sometimes after a rest day it can be hard to get going in the first hour or so but I was fine, which was surprising considering I made very little effort on yesterday's training ride.

After about 5km this morning, we hit a steep little uncategorised climb that went on for about 4km.

Here, I followed a move and got away in 10-man group but the Tinkoff Saxo team of race leader Alberto Contador chased us down. I jumped in a few more groups after that, but pretty soon it became obvious that the Giant Shimano and Orica GreenEDGE teams realised it was their last chance for a bunch sprint finish and were shutting everything down.

After that, I just tried to save as much energy as possible for the next few days and stayed with Chris Froome for the rest of the day. With the pace increasing in the peloton and the breakaway group slowly coming back to us, Chris turned to me with about 50km to go.

"Phil, can you go back for bottles?"

"Yeah, no problem."

I dropped back to the team car and one by one, managed to stuff seven bottles, one for each of the guys, down the back of my jersey before making my way back to the front resembling a lycra-clad Quasimodo.

Usually when you go back for bottles you try and do it at a time where the road is flat and the pace has slackened at the front in order to make it as easy as possible, but in the last 50km of a stage you don't really get to pick your terrain, you just go get them.

As the bottles are kept in a cool box in the team car it was quite refreshing to feel the cold plastic on my back as I made my way back up.

But just as I regained contact we turned onto a little drag, which wasn't so nice with the equivalent of a five-kilo bag of spuds on my back.

Although there were a few little kickers in the last few kilometres, and even a short cobbled section with about 3km to go, there was nothing steep enough to attack on so our main objective was for Chris to stay up near the front and avoid any splits that might come in the gallop to the line.

Shortly after distributing my bottles to the lads, we began to move en masse towards the front of the peloton on the left-hand side of the road but after a short discussion with Luke Rowe, Chris came over the radio again.

"Guys there's still 40km to go, don't use up too much energy riding out in the wind."

After that, we drifted back a few places and left the sprinters' teams at it until we hit the last seven or eight kilometres. With about 4km to go we hit the cobbled section, with everyone strung out on a thin strip of concrete in the middle to avoid the vibrations of the cobblestones.

Up ahead of me, I could see Pete, Luke and Kosta were up alongside Chris so I eased up and rode to the line in a small group, hopefully saving a bit of energy for the last few days of this Vuelta.

Vuelta a Espana,

Live, TG4/Eurosport, 3.00

Irish Independent