Dan Martin Diary – Day 19: A day of survival, but at least it’s another day closer to Paris
Illness makes the mountains a struggle and the apocalyptic weather didn’t help
Spectators shelter from rain as a group of riders pass during the 204.5 km 19th stage of the centenary Tour de France from Bourg d’Oisans to Le Grand Bornand, in the French Alps. Photograph: Eric Gaillard/Reuters
Another day feeling sick, but another day closer to Paris. That’s how I have to look at things after the illness which hit me on Thursday continued on the mountain stage to Le Grand Bornand. I had hoped I’d feel better but it was another day of slogging along, riding at a fraction of what I was able to do a few days ago.
I was quite fortunate at the start. There was an incredible number of Irish people again there and the support was really good. I am really grateful, it helped to lift the morale a lot. It was just a shame that I didn’t get to race to my full potential for them.
I was a little fortunate with the way the stage panned out. Everybody was so scared of the nature of the course, and rightly so, and this meant that things were not as hectic as they could have been. There was something like 5,600 metres of climbing during the day, with five categorised mountains to be crossed.
The breakaway went before the first climb, which was lucky. I was nearly getting dropped on the flat beforehand with all the attacks that were firing off, but once the break went things settled down a bit.
My Garmin-Sharp team-mate Ryder Hesjedal was clear for a long time, then he was caught and later dropped by Pierre Rolland the Frenchman who was looking to retake the King of the Mountains classification.
Back in the bunch, people were just riding tempo. The Sky team of the race leader Chris Froome and the other squads were happy enough for Hesjedal, Rolland and a small group of other riders to get clear, build a lead and to fight it out for the stage win. A lot of people are fried at this stage and it meant that things were relatively civilised.
It ended up that we were riding tempo all day. I can do that – my lungs are completely blocked up, but because I am so fit at the moment, I was able to survive. I was going as hard as I could, but it was enough to stay up there for most of the stage.
The tactic was simple: I basically just followed the wheels as long as possible. I was useless to the team, I just had to look after myself. I needed a pee after about half an hour but I didn’t dare stop as I wouldn’t be able to get back up to the peloton. It was that kind of day for me.
We went over the Col du Glandon, ranked hors categorie, which basically means it is the hardest level of climb. That was followed by the Col de la Madelaine, which is also ranked the same. My aim was to get to the top of that second climb with the main bunch, because I knew if I got there I would be pretty good in terms of making it inside the time limit. It was a massive relief to do that. After that it was just a case of staying with the yellow jersey group for as long as possible to make finishing the stage relatively straightforward.
In the end, I sat up on the third last climb, the category two Col de Tamie, and got into a group of riders. It ended up being quite a pleasant ride to the finish; well, other than the torrential rain and freezing cold. The weather had 25 degrees at the start but then turned really nasty. Luckily our team car came up from behind and gave us jackets and stuff.
We all have a bag of clothes in the car full of rain jackets, gloves and even a spare set of shoes, so that comes in handy on stages like that. We were able to put more layers on and that made it bearable.
The weather turned even more apocalyptic on the last climb, with a massive thunderstorm breaking out. A few lighting bolts came a bit too close for my liking – they were actually hitting the same hillside that we were on! So that was bit interesting.
It was a tough day for everyone, over six hours of racing, but was even more difficult for my Garmin-Sharp team-mate Jack Bauer. He had an unfortunate incident – he drifted off the road slightly early on and ended up catching his face on a barbed wire fence. Although he isn’t badly injured, he ripped his lip open so he had to abandon the stage in a pool of blood.
He is fine now, there is no problem with him, but it is sad to lose a team-mate. Especially someone who has helped me so much this race. It is hard not to see him get to Paris.
Everyone’s thoughts are turning to that now. There’s still one very tough mountain stage to go, and the general classification riders will continue to fight it out, but the race is very nearly over. For me it’ll be a case of survival on those hills; I had hoped to be fighting for a stage win and to stay in the top 10 overall, but everything changes when you get sick.
I’m hoping that the weather turns good again. Most of the race has been great but the past two days have been different. It would be nice to finish the Tour in good weather, to be able to enjoy that aspect of it as we finally ride into Paris on Sunday.