Nicolas Roche: 'I saw Kiryienka standing bewildered in a ditch while his bike lay on the far side of the road'
Wednesday, March 6 – Stage 3: Châtel-Guyon to Brioude (170.5km)
With three climbs en route to Brioude today, including a second-category ascent in the final 20km, there was a chance that the undulating route and bad weather might combine to see a breakaway group stay away to the finish, so the team plan was to have a presence in the break whenever it got clear.
After a fast and furious opening 20km or so, my room-mate Mads Christensen went clear and as he and his fellow escapees – Dutchman Martijn Keizer of Vacansoleil, Alexis Vuillermoz of Sojasun and my old team-mate Sebastien Minard from AG2R – drifted out of sight and the pace settled down in the peloton, it wasn't long before I started to feel cold.
Even though I had begun the stage wearing a heavier than usual shower-proof jersey and thick winter gloves, I took the opportunity to drift back to my Saxo-Tinkoff team car and grab a rain cape to try and stay warm as the green-clad Cannondale team of race leader Elia Viviani kept a decent tempo at the front of the bunch.
Having given the lead quartet a maximum advantage of around four minutes, with around 30km to go the chase started to liven up in anticipation of a heated battle on the final climb, so I handed my rain jacket to my Danish team-mate Anders Lund and a few minutes later Michael Morkov arrived alongside me with my short-sleeve gloves, freeing my fingertips for the constant hair-trigger tipping of brakes and changing gears of the run-in.
Like the rest of the peloton, after a few hours trying to ward off the cold, I was ready to race again.
With the race leader's team having done enough to reel in Mads and his fellow escapees with 22km remaining, Team Sky hit the front for their Aussie leader Richie Porte on the approach to the final climb, and all Cannondale's hard work went wallop as race leader Viviani dropped out the back door like a stone halfway up.
On the wet, uneven descent, with around 14km to go, Ukrainian road race champion Andriy Grivko of Astana attacked and went clear, forcing Sky's Vasil Kiryienka to up his pace to try and stay with him.
Two kilometres later Kiryienka had clawed his way back to the front and was descending quickly when his bike fish-tailed on one of the wet corners. Like a good rodeo cowboy Kiryienka held tight as he was first bucked right, then left, before finally being flung over the bars and onto the road in front of us.
I went around the corner a few seconds later to see Kiryienka standing bewildered in a ditch while his bike lay on the far side of the road.
In the meantime, somebody had already let a gap open on the descent and six riders, including Porte and fellow favourite Andrew Talansky of Garmin Sharp, had slipped off the front of the race and were dangling a few yards ahead of my chase group of 25 riders.
Almost everyone in my group tried to bridge the gap in those final 6km or so. World champion Philip Gilbert tried; his BMC team-mate Tejay Van Garderen tried, as did second overall Sylvain Chavanel, but the speed was so high nobody could get across.
I attacked with 4km to go and got clear with AG2R's Jean Christophe Peraud and Daniel Navaro of Cofidis – two strong riders, but we couldn't go any faster and only managed a few hundred metres off the front of the chase group before we were reeled in.
I crossed the line in 14th place on the stage, seven seconds after Talansky took his biggest ever win and became the new race leader. While I lost time to Talansky and Porte, I gained time on Robert Gesink, Denis Menchov and a few others and moved up to 18th place overall, 17 seconds off the race leader.
The seven seconds I lost today could prove vital at the end of the week. Only time will tell.
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