Friday 27 April 2018

'I flew around a bend to see Tejay sprawled out on his back'

Lotto Soudal’s Polish cyclist Tomasz Marczynski celebrates as he crosses the line to win stage six of the Vuelta. Photo: Getty Images
Lotto Soudal’s Polish cyclist Tomasz Marczynski celebrates as he crosses the line to win stage six of the Vuelta. Photo: Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Thursday, August 24 - Stage 5:

Vila real to Segunto (204kms)

After 30km of racing today, there were two groups of a dozen riders up the road, with my team-mate Damiano Caruso in the first one.

At the bottom of the first 9km-long climb, the Sky team of race leader Chris Froome set the tempo at the front of the peloton to try and calm things down but by the time we got to the top a few more riders had made their way across, forming a huge 37-man breakaway.

With Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez in the move and just 3'24" off Froome's race lead, Sky rode pretty hard all day to keep the gap at a manageable distance.

On the second climb, after 60km, Damiano was one of nine riders to get dropped from the break - which was now two minutes clear.

With 60km left, the breakaway group began to split as we neared the penultimate climb of the day.

With the peloton closing in on the second half of the group, the race commissaires called all of the team cars out of the gap behind them; pulling them in at the side of the road on the climb so that we would have a clear pursuit. We didn't catch them though.

They opened the gap again on the descent, which resulted in the motorbike commissaires trying to shepherd the peloton to one side of the road to let the cars back up past us again in the valley leading to the final climb 20km later.

With teams fighting a drag race for position into the climb, there were maybe 15 cars trying to get past on twisty roads. It was chaos.

There were cars and motorbikes in the bunch and riders almost getting clipped every time we went around a corner.

When one of the cars took a corner a bit wide and forced everybody out of the way at the foot of the last climb, there was a touch of wheels and my team-mate Daniel Oss was one of the ones who fell. He was pretty p****d off about it afterwards.

The second-category Puerto del Garbi was really narrow and really steep - 22 per cent in places.

Most of us expected the peloton to explode on it, so letting the cars through again didn't turn out to be the best idea. With 40km still to go and the break now over two minutes further up the slope, American Pete Stetina tore into the foot of the 4.5km-long ascent with team leader Alberto Contador in his wheel.

Contador's presence at the front signalled alarm bells. I'd half expected Contador to go bananas on the climb and warned my room-mate Tejay Van Garderen, who had begun the day in second place overall, to expect it this morning.

Marked

The Spaniard is known for his long-range attacks and when he hit the front a few hundred metres later, marked by race leader Froome, the pace was such that there were only 10 of us left.

Within seconds, I was on Tejay's wheel, last man in the group and hanging on for dear life.

With Contador driving on the front, we quickly began reeling in the back markers of the breakaway.

On the steepest 22 per cent section shortly after, Carlos de la Cruz and Ilnur Zakarin touched handlebars with De la Cruz coming off as they tried to squeeze through the gap between more cars and fans.

A kilometre and a half from the top we caught Contador's team-mate Jarlinson Pantano, and with his team leader in his slipstream he upped the pace again on a little dip before the last steep ramp to the top.

Tejay hung on with Froome, Contador and Pantano while I went out the back door with Esteban Chaves.

Knowing that most of the other contenders were still behind us, I just got to the top as quickly as I could without going too deep and hoped everything would come back together on the descent.

Shortly into the downhill, I flew around a bend to see Tejay sprawled on his back at the side of the road.

He'd hit a bump in the tarmac, his hand slipped off the handlebars and he brought Carlos Betancur of Movistar down with him.

Descending in a group of around 20 riders, I caught Froome and Contador on the way down. Having passed so many guys on the climb I wasn't sure what was happening up front, so I turned to Froomey.

"How many guys up the road?"

"I'm not sure if it's three or five,'" he replied. With 17km to go, the five leaders were three seconds clear of my group. When two of them sat up, I was sure we were going to catch them but the other three forged on and fought for the stage win.

With 7km to go, Tejay was about half a minute behind our group and I could hear the guys in the team car encouraging him on the radio.

"Come on Tejay, come on!"

As he was making his way up through the cars in the last 2km, though, he crashed again on a roundabout, sliding into a kerb and drifting 30 seconds down to fourth overall, meaning I moved up to third due to Tejay's bad luck.

Afterwards, I jumped on the rollers to cool down while a frustrated Tejay went straight to the back of the team bus.

I reminded him that today he was one of only three riders able to follow Contador and Froome and that he was just unlucky.

Thankfully, he seemed more p****d off than hurt and will hopefully bounce back.

Vuelta a Espana,

Live, Eurosport 1, 2.0

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