Nicolas Roche: 'I went head first and my bike went one way and I went another. Andriy Grivko fell behind me and his bike landed on my head'
Nicolas Roche's Tour de France diary
Wednesday July 9, Stage 5: Ypres to Arenberg Porte de Hainault, 152.5km
Surprisingly for the Tour de France, today's stage didn't start until 2pm, so while it made for a long morning of hanging around, it gave me plenty of time to tidy my room and pack my suitcase for the next hotel.
The soigneurs usually call to the rooms to collect our cases about five minutes before we leave for the stage, but today I noticed my room-mate Michael Rogers' stuff was still all over the place, so I called to remind him.
"Hey Michael, you'd want to pack your bags. It's nearly time to go."
You can imagine my disappointment when he just started laughing.
"Nico, we're staying here again tonight!"
We were greeted by pouring rain at the start this morning, but at least we arrived a bit early and had plenty of time to get ready and decide what we were going to wear for the stage ahead.
To help our wrists cope with the continuous pounding from the cobbled sections sprinkled towards the end of the stage, each of our bikes were fitted with an extra layer of handlebar tape, while we used wider 28mm tyres instead of the usual 23mm.
Normally, I have 8.5 bar of pressure in both tyres, but this morning, with the rain and the cobbles ahead, I had five bar in the back and 4.5 in the front, which felt a bit strange for the first few hundred metres. The atrocious weather conditions saw the race organisation cut two sections of cobbles from today's route, but at the pre-stage meeting on the bus, team manager Bjarne Riis left us in no doubt that we were still in for a bumpy ride.
"Listen guys," he announced. "Today is one of those days that in 10 years' time, when you meet each other at dinner or somewhere, you will always talk about as one of those epic days in cycling."
I remembered him saying something similar before a stage of the recent Giro d'Italia, where we rode through 12ft snow drifts at the side of the road in the mountains.
"You said that to me before the Stelvio stage at the Giro," I smiled.
"Well, look how lucky you are! You will have ridden two of the most unforgettable days in cycling in three months!"
The team plan today was for myself and my room-mate Michael Rogers to ride at the front from the very start, with our team leader Alberto Contador sheltered behind us, so that we could keep the cobble specialists Daniele Bennati, Matteo Tossatto and Michael Morkov fresh to help him later on.
While riding at the front expended a huge amount of energy, by doing so we all managed to avoid the carnage caused by the slippery roads behind us.
With about 80km to go, triple-stage winner Marcel Kittel fell in front of us and almost brought Alberto down. Michael had to ride straight into the grass to avoid falling, while I was on the inside and also just managed to escape. As we entered the first section of cobbles with about 68km to go, 'Benna' hit the front and kept a steady pace with Alberto riding comfortably behind him in third wheel.
Coming back on to the tarmac, we tried to put teams under pressure by riding in the gutter and managed to split the peloton in three, but most of them came back up about 5km from the second section.
This 1.4km-long section saw huge trenches full of muddy water at the side of the road and some of the cobbles may as well have been land mines as guys were flung left, right and centre in front of us. Alberto was a bit worried and wasn't in the best position, so I rode just behind him in case he needed a wheel or even my bike.
"Nico just stay there whatever happens," he said. "We'll see where we are when we get back on to the road."
By the time we got back on the road, however, the peloton had disintegrated and we were in the third group, about 35 seconds down on race leader Vincenzo Nibali, while 'Benna' and 'Tosso' were somewhere in between.
I hit the front and tried to pull Alberto back up to the next group, while the two guys waited for us up ahead, to help with the chase. Although we were losing time, the plan was to stay together to the finish and not panic. We didn't want Alberto to be left alone in the last 20km in case he crashed or had a mechanical problem.
On the fourth section of cobbles, with about 25km to go, my luck ran out and I hit the deck.
Although I was riding in a straight line in the centre of the cobbles and was positioned well towards the front of the group, there was a lot of grass and muck on the surface and my front wheel just went from under me.
I went head first and my bike went one way and I went another. I slid into the ditch at the side of the road and Astana's Andriy Grivko fell behind me and his bike landed on my head.
Whatever way I fell on my hip and arm, I couldn't get up. Luckily, one of the team staff that we had positioned at the beginning, middle and end of each section, ran down the road and helped me out of the ditch.
After the belt in the head, it took me a while to gather myself before remounting, but I knew there was no point in riding like a maniac to try and catch the group because the race was all over the place. As I rolled off, I could hear something rattle and looked down to see my rear wheel skewer open. I slowed down, stopped and tightened it before continuing to the finish in a group of about 15 riders and ending the stage about 13 minutes down.
Upon crossing the line, I got stripped and showered on the bus and examined myself to see that I've a big bruise on my calf, scrapes on my back and hip and a huge lump on my right shoulder.
Although the shoulder was a bit sore while riding, I was able to finish and only realised when I took my jersey off how swollen it was.
I'll see the physio tonight and get it checked out, but it's probably only bruised and I should be okay tomorrow. I'm a bit disappointed to have crashed today after riding at the front for a lot of the stage. I would have got more satisfaction from finishing alongside Alberto, just to be there to help.
Race leader Nibali had a storming ride today to finish third on the stage and took just more than two and a half minutes out of Alberto and most of the favourites, but I don't think today was a catastrophe for us. Alberto limited his losses and it could have been a whole lot worse.
Unfortunately, defending champion Chris Froome of Sky was forced to pull out today. He'd already crashed yesterday and crashed twice again today and it was just too much for him, which is a real pity because I think he would have had a hell of a battle with Nibali, Alberto and the others for overall victory.
I'm looking forward to nice lie down now, but first I have to give my shoes and helmet to the mechanics to power hose.
TOUR DE FRANCE, LIVE TG4 1.10pm/EUROSPORT 1.15pm/ITV4 2.00pm
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