Saturday 18 January 2020

Cycling: Vuelta Diary Stage 7 - Alhendin to Alcaudete

With attacks coming from all angles, Chris Froome hit the deck at the worst possible time

British cyclist Christopher Froome waits for the start of the 7th stage of the 69th edition of 'La Vuelta' Tour of Spain
British cyclist Christopher Froome waits for the start of the 7th stage of the 69th edition of 'La Vuelta' Tour of Spain

Philip Deignan

Life on the Vuelta a Espana is a little bit different to most other big stage races.

As the stages don't start until around 1.30, everything else seems to get put back until later in the day.

Stage finishes at around 5.30 or 6.0 mean that by the time we get to our hotel and have massage we don't finish dinner until after 10.0, so bedtimes are later than usual.

After a lovely home-made burger followed by some morale-boosting icecream made by our Team Sky chefs last night, I was hoping for a nice lie-in this morning and set my alarm for 9.45.

A knock on the door at 8.0 however saw me stumble out of bed to attend an anti-doping control in one of the hotel rooms.

I'd intended to go back to bed afterwards but I wasn't finished until 9 so just went down for breakfast as usual instead.

Unlike the rest of the week, today's stage saw flat out racing from the gun. The flat opening 30km, combined with rumours in the neutralised section that the sprinters' teams weren't going to try and control the stage for a sprint finish, saw half the peloton tried to jump up the road in the hope of making the first breakaway of the race that would stay clear to the line.

Attacks flew all over the place and the speed was well over 55kph as we approached the first climb of the day, the third category Alto de Illora, after 32km.

But as we tore through the small streets of Illora at the bottom, my team leader Chris Froome suddenly found himself in a heap on the ground. Somebody had fallen directly in front of him and with nowhere to go, Chris simply ran into the back of him and hit the deck at the worst possible time.

With the race in full flight and attacks flying left, right and centre it was bad timing as Chris had to stop and get a new bike so I waited with the rest of the team to help him regain contact.

Although we weren't impressed when we heard the Movistar team of race leader Alejandro Valverde were riding hard at the front of the peloton ahead of us, we didn't panic and the whole team led Chris up the 8km climb. We didn't regain contact until the bottom of the descent after 20km of chasing.

By then, four riders had gone clear and things began to calm down a little bit so Chris took the time to get his wounds assessed as he rode alongside the medical car.

As everybody knew there was a pretty technical descent coming after the second category Alto Atillo with 40km to go, there was a bit of a fight to get to the front for it.

Some of the team tactics here have been a bit strange this week. Today the Trek and Lampre teams were hammering on the front of the peloton for the last 40km for no apparent reason.

They didn't come to the front until the break had seven minutes and then rode flat out to the line for nothing. If they'd started their chase 10km earlier, when the group had only four minutes, they probably would have brought them back.

The final 10km or so were quite hard, with a long uphill drag to the line for the last 4km. After the guys had done their stints at the front, I led the peloton into the last kilometre with Chris on my wheel.

With 400metres to go though, Dan Martin rocketed past me with Belgian rider Philippe Gilbert of BMC in tow. As Chris jumped after them I just swung off and eased up, my job done for the day, and actually lost nearly a minute in those last 400metres.

Chris on the other hand showed no ill effects from his crash to take three seconds out of his GC rivals and finish seventh on the stage. He's now 19 seconds behind Valverde and just five seconds behind second placed Nairo Quintana which bodes well for the weekend.

After a long flat day tomorrow we have a big mountain top finish on Sunday which will be important.

Vuelta a Espana

Live, Eurosport and TG4, 3.0

Friday August 29, Stage 7 Alhendin to Alcaudete (169km)

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