'Greipel dislocated his shoulder in the crash but opted to pop it back in himself'
Friday, July 6, Stage 6:
Épernay -- Metz 207.5km
Today was probably the most stressful day of this Tour. I suppose I should have seen it coming when Jurgen van den Broeck and Richie Porte crashed in the neutralised zone, before the stage had even officially started.
About 40km later, coming into a roundabout, somebody's front wheel slipped and took half the bunch out of it, including my team-mate Jean-Christophe Peraud. There were only about 30 riders left in the front and with about 165kms still ahead of us, we all just eased up and allowed everyone that fell to regain contact.
Once again, I spent the whole day sitting behind my minder Sebastien Minard. I'm like his shadow this week. He kills himself sitting in the wind all day, near the front of the bunch, so that I can shelter behind him and save as much energy as possible. Usually we have time for a chat but today was so stressful that we only spoke to give each other directions on where we wanted to move through the peloton.
At the King of the Mountain climb on the fourth-category Cote de Buxieres, with about 50km to go, Thursday's stage winner Andre Greipel fell with a few others as the road narrowed towards the top. He actually dislocated his shoulder in the crash but opted to pop it back in himself before remounting and going on to finish second on the stage.
Jean-Christophe punctured and some of the guys went back for him, and they made their way up through the crash victims.
With about 30km to go, we hit a big wide road and I put the team riding on the front, just to try and stay out of trouble. The wind was really strong and it was beginning to spit rain, so the further away from the middle of the bunch I was the better. Although we were soon swamped by other teams with the same idea, it worked out pretty well for me because about 5km later there was an enormous crash in the middle of the peloton.
I heard the sound of scraping metal and squealing brakes somewhere behind me but in those scenarios all you can do is keep riding and hope nobody hits you from the side or from behind. Because we were close to the front, the five guys with me missed the crash, but Jean-Christophe fell again and so did another team-mate, Hubert Dupont.
As Greipel's Lotto-Belisol team drove the pace towards the finish, I didn't realise how big the crash was until I turned around a few kilometres later and saw that two-thirds of the bunch was missing.
It was a really fast lead-out by the Lotto guys, and coming into a corner one of the Liquigas riders, who had just brought double stage winner Peter Sagan to the front, swung out of the line and left a five-metre gap in front of me. That doesn't sound much, but when you're riding at close to 60kph, you can't really go any faster to close it and as Sagan took his third stage win of the Tour, the first 10 guys across the line took four seconds out of the rest of us.
Afterwards, I learned that a lot of GC contenders came down in the crash. Frank Schleck from Radioshack, Rabobank's climbing duo Bauke Mollema and Robert Gesink, the Italian climber Michele Scarponi from Lampre, Spaniards Alejandro Valverde and Juan Jose Cobo of Movistar and the recent winner of the Giro d'Italia, Ryder Hesjedal all lost at least two minutes, while four guys ended up out of the race altogether.
Unfortunately, Jean-Christophe also lost time in his second spill of the day, while Hubert is heading to the hospital now for an X-ray on a suspected broken wrist. Some of the guys are a bit grumpy on the team bus at the moment because they're sore, but there have been so many crashes this week that a lot of riders have fallen more than once. My cousin Dan Martin's Garmin-Sharp team are a prime example.
Today Dan lost over 13 minutes as he waited for all three of his team's GC contenders, who had fallen. Alongside David Millar and Robbie Hunter, Dan did his best to nurse Hesjedal and Christian Vande Velde to the finish but could do nothing as Tom Danielson was forced to abandon the race after the fall and Johan van Summeren drifted off the pace due to his injuries.
Their sprinter Tyler Farrar hit the deck in the final 3km, so their team bus was like a mobile hospital after the stage.
While Dan's efforts today, 176th, saw him drop down the overall standings to 143rd, he now has some leg room that will maybe give him a bit more freedom to go for stage wins later on, so watch this space.
After almost a week of racing I'm feeling okay. My legs are a little bit sore but that's to be expected after racing around 210km every day for the last week. I've moved up to 15th overall and I'm looking forward to the first day in the mountains.
I hope to be climbing well and while the sprint stages are part and parcel of the Tour, hopefully tomorrow I can manage to pull out a good performance on the summit finish atop the first-category climb of La Planche des Belles Filles and maybe even move up a place or two.
It won't be a catastrophe if I'm not in the top 10 tomorrow but I want to be as close as possible.
Tour de France
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