Duelling with an Olympian on the hills of Spain

Battle for sixth will depend on climbs, time trials and, perhaps, antibiotics

A babygirl watches the pack riding at the start of the 19th stage of the 69th edition of “La Vuelta”. Photograph: Jaime Reina /AFP/Getty Images

A babygirl watches the pack riding at the start of the 19th stage of the 69th edition of “La Vuelta”. Photograph: Jaime Reina /AFP/Getty Images

 

So, two days to go and I’m still in sixth overall. I’m determined to hold onto that place but there is a bit of a fight going on with Samuel Sanchez, the former Olympic road race champion. He had a very good showing on Thursday’s climb and gained time on me, moving to just seven seconds behind in the general classification.

It was his best performance in the mountains so far in the race but we’ll see how he does on Saturday; the mountain finish then is probably the hardest of the race. If things go as they did for much of the Vuelta, I hope to gain time on him.

He went clear on the descent on Friday but I wasn’t too worried. I think he was just trying to stay out of trouble. There was still some way to go to the finish so I was pretty confident that he wasn’t going to stay out there by himself. If he did, then it would have been on merit. He was caught anyway, so it wasn’t a problem.

My goal on Saturday is to try to get thirty to sixty seconds on him. We have a time trial on Sunday and, while he is normally faster than me in those races, doing one after three weeks is very different. Still, getting more time now will ensure that I don’t have to stress as much to hold him off on Sunday. Ravine crash Of course, much will depend on how I feel. When I crashed earlier this week, falling into a ravine, I cut my leg open and ended up getting six stitches. I got some mud into the wound and while they cleaned it out, they put me on antibiotics as a precautionary measure.

That’s important as there have been incidences in the past with riders having serious problems. For example, Johan Museeuw crash in Paris-Roubaix. He cut his knee badly and, while the doctors thought everything was clean and in order, he got an infection afterwards and nearly had to have his leg amputated.

Antibiotics can interfere with your form but, given the bigger picture, it’s definitely not worth taking a chance.

I don’t think I am going as well as before I started taking them; I think it is to do with the effect they have on my digestion, as they kill the good bacteria which help you to process food. I felt pretty empty at the end of Thursday’s stage and it may well because of that. Anyway, hopefully the last two days won’t be affected by it.

Dangerous descent There was a bit of concern towards the end of Friday’s stage when one of the Sky riders, Dario Cataldo, crashed badly. My team had put me in a very good position prior to the last second category climb and I got up it fine, but on the way down he crashed and ended up sliding across the road, hitting a tree.

I didn’t see his actually fall; the descent was really twisting and dangerous, and you couldn’t see more than a few riders in front. We went around a corner and I saw him lying on the left-hand side of the road. I knew it wasn’t good because when guys don’t get up straight away, you know it’s a bad one.

I heard he was able to ride in to the finish and I hope that he will be fine.

It’s something I know a bit about as I crashed out of last year’s Vuelta a España. I hit my head and ended up with a concussion. Our team, Garmin-Sharp, has a very strict policy on that and plays things safe, taking riders out of races if it is necessary. That’s what the team doctors did with me, and I agree with it.

If you hit your head, it’s very dangerous to continue racing due to the extra blood-flow going around. You can do long-term damage.

It’s important they check it thoroughly. The effects can be different for everyone. Some of the guys who get it can’t look at bright lights like from television or computer screens, whereas I had no problems doing that but I just couldn’t sleep. I didn’t sleep for a week because of the way it affected me.

A hit to the head is a strange thing to experience and a dangerous thing as well. Obviously the long-term health of the rider is the most important thing and the race is, and should be, secondary to that.

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