Saturday 14 December 2019

'Dario slid off the road, landing flat on his back beside a tree'

Philip Deignan's Vuelta a Espana diary - Stage 19: Salvaterra de Miño - Cangas de Morrazo (180.5km)

Adam Hansen breaks away from the peloton in the closing kilometres to take stage 19 of the Vuelta a espana. Photo: JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images
Adam Hansen breaks away from the peloton in the closing kilometres to take stage 19 of the Vuelta a espana. Photo: JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images

Philip Deignan

After three weeks on a Grand Tour, meal times can sometimes become as much a chore as the stages themselves.

Even though we have a team chef on the race with us and our food is always freshly cooked and well presented, it gets to the stage where you are really just eating for the sake of eating, stuffing your face to get enough fuel into you for the day, and there's no enjoyment in it any more.

I've even started to run out of ideas for my daily porridge creations in the mornings and begun dreaming of a good fry-up for breakfast when this race is over.

With just three days left, today's stage was all about trying to keep team leader Chris Froome out of danger and trying to conserve energy for tomorrow's massive mountain rendezvous.

With others worrying more about their diminishing chances of grabbing a stage win, though, the start was really fast again this morning, until a three-man break went clear after 25km.

With the sprinters happy enough to let such a small group up the road, the Giant Shimano team of green jersey wearer John Degenkolb held them at about three minutes for most of the stage.

Although there was a second-category climb midway through the stage, we were more worried about the one at the end, the top of which came with 15km to go.

We knew the last 25km were going to be very fast so the plan once again was just to keep Chris up near the front and out of danger.

Sometimes you're better off setting a good tempo at the front in order to do this so, as it all started kicking off coming into the climb, we had numbers there and did just that.

Vasil Kiryienka led us towards the climb parallel with race leader Alberto Contador's Tinkoff Saxo team before Luke Rowe hit the bottom at the front with the rest of us tucked in behind him.

Again, Luke's pace setting wasn't about trying to drop anyone but more about keeping Chris out of danger. When Luke swung off, Pete Kennaugh took over with 'Kosta' Suitsov, myself, Dario Cataldo, Chris and Mikel Nieve all waiting right behind him. With 15km to go, Kosta led us over the top.

The descent was really fast and technical so when Sammy Sanchez of BMC overtook us and hit the front the speed went up to over 85kph. Sanchez is probably the best descender in the peloton and was stringing us out as he flew around corners ahead of us but we just wanted to get down safely and not take any risks so we shouted at Kosta to just let him go.

Unfortunately this didn't stop my new room-mate Dario crashing on a bend with about 13km to go.

I think he ran a little bit wide on the corner and his back wheel skipped on some ruts in the road and slid out, with Dario ending up flat on his back up beside a tree at the side of the road.

When we heard the bang behind us, we didn't know who had fallen and looked around for Chris. We couldn't see him so there was a bit of panic for a few minutes before we caught a glimpse of him a bit further back.

At the bottom of the descent, the sprinters' teams took over again and I sat third wheel for a while before the attacks came on a short, sharp hill with 5km to go.

About a kilometre later, a brief stall saw Aussie Adam Hansen launch an opportunist attack and manage to hold off the peloton for a very good stage win, while I crossed the line alongside Chris, Kosta and Mikel five seconds later.

After the stage, myself and Pete were called for two of the seven daily random anti-doping controls. Luckily, I got in there before the queue started and needed to pee so I was out pretty quick.


Pete, on the other hand, missed the team bus back to the hotel and the team car had to wait for him.

Dario actually managed to remount and finish the stage but he looked a bit dazed afterwards and is gone to hospital to get some scans done on his elbow and wrist.

Hopefully he will be okay and able to race tomorrow.

With this Vuelta ending in a short time trial on Sunday, tomorrow's huge day in the mountains is the last time for anybody up the GC to take big chunks of time on their rivals.

Chris is currently second overall, a minute and 19 seconds off the race lead but with four climbs in the last 70km, including the Hors category finish to Ascare, the stage could change everything.

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