Friday 23 March 2018

'Costa's bike was completely destroyed and his jersey was torn to shreds, just hanging on'

Vuelta A Espana: Friday, August 25, Stage  7-  Lliria to Cuenca (207km)

Chris Froome. Photo: Getty Images
Chris Froome. Photo: Getty Images

Nicholas Roche

Having crashed twice during yesterday's stage, my roommate Tejay van Garderen spent a bit of time with the team physio after his usual post-stage massage, so we ate at different times and I didn't get to talk to him until we met up in our room afterwards.

Although he was a little bit disappointed at losing 20 seconds and dropping to fourth overall, when we watched videos of his crashes on the internet I think he realised how lucky he was to come away with superficial cuts and grazes to his hip, knee and back. Although his wounds will sting for a few days yet, Tejay was bandaged up well and ready to go for the longest stage of this Vuelta this morning.

Today our team plan was to put somebody in the breakaway from the start and as my Italian team-mate Alessandro De Marchi was the only one to put his hand up, he was that somebody.

Tejay and I were given the freedom to float around the peloton for the early kilometres, while the rest of the guys were to try and help Demma get up the road before settling down to look after us for the rest of the stage.

Before any of that though, three guys, including Portuguese rider Rui Costa, crashed really hard in the neutral section leading us out of town, just before 'kilometre zero' - the official rolling start.

The crash happened a few places in front of me and I could see Costa flipping over the handlebars and hitting the deck.

Costa's bike was completely destroyed and his jersey was torn to shreds and just barely hanging on. He was in bits.

Because of the crash, the rolling start went on a bit longer to allow the crash victims time to gather themselves and regain contact before racing started.

As we trundled along slowly there was another heavy crash, this time taking down about 10 riders, so the commissaires took the decision to stop the race altogether until everybody got up off the ground, changed their bikes, wheels, jerseys or whatever was necessary and were able to continue - while some of the bunch took the opportunity for a pee at the side of the road while we waited. When everybody was back in the peloton, the lead car took off and racing began straight away. After standing idle for four or five minutes it was a bit of a shock to the system but it didn't stop the attacks coming.

After numerous moves came and went, Demma got into a group of seven which merged with another group of the same size and they rode off into the sunset after about 15km.

These past few stages have been so much tougher than they look on the route profile.

There were only three categorised climbs today but we had 2,700m of climbing. Some big mountain stages don't have as much as that and, with another hard finish ahead of us tomorrow, it wasn't surprising that Sky gave the escapees their head before upping the pace towards the second half of the stage.

Although the best-placed rider in the breakaway was Jetse Bol of the Manzano Postobon team, at eight minutes and 55 seconds behind race leader Chris Froome, the Dutchman looked like he had a chance of becoming race leader when the breakaway's advantage grew to eight minutes with 65km to go.

Riding towards the final climb of the day, the third-category Alto de Castillo, with 17km to go, Daniel Oss, Killian Frankiny and Damiano Caruso took turns in front of me to keep me near the front and out of the wind.

Just before we entered the town of Cuenca and hit the narrow cobbled climb up through the streets, Rohan Dennis and Fran Ventoso did two amazing pulls to get me onto the climb at the head of the peloton.

As we bounced onto the cobbles, I headed for a smooth narrow strip of concrete in the middle of the road and stayed there until it ran out.

As soon as it did, everyone switched across to narrow gutters either side of the road to get respite from the impact of the juddering stones.

Some of the Sky lads came around me again and upped the tempo on the incline so I just sat behind them to the top, where there was a group of only around 25 riders left.

Containing all of the GC contenders and with the climb now over, I think everybody was happy enough to get down the other side without losing any time on each other and without using up too much energy ahead of a mega hard stage finish tomorrow.

Although the breakaways had nine minutes' lead with 12km to go today, Sky got their maths right and ensured that Bol, who leapt up to seventh place overall, would lose out on the race lead by just 45 seconds by the end of the stage.

For us, Demma took fifth on the stage as Matej Mohoric of UAE soloed away from the break to snatch his first Grand Tour stage win. Myself and Tejay are still third and fourth overall, at 13 seconds and 30 seconds respectively, behind race leader Chris Froome.

Tomorrow's first-category climb of Xorret de Cati comes just 3km from the finish and could change things again.

  • Vuelta a Espana, Live, Eurosport 1, 2.15

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