I don’t know what I hit, but I lost control and fell hard

Ireland’s  Nicolas Roche reacts as he crosses the finish line on the eighth day of the 68th edition of La Vuelta. Photograph: Getty Images

Ireland’s Nicolas Roche reacts as he crosses the finish line on the eighth day of the 68th edition of La Vuelta. Photograph: Getty Images


Saturday was a real up and down day for Irish cycling; Nicolas Roche took the red jersey as race leader in the Vuelta a España, while at the same time the race left Jerez de la Frontera without me. I crashed heavily at the end of Friday’s stage and in the end, unfortunately, it became clear that I couldn’t remain in the race.

What happened was that with just over 10km to go in the stage, I was following Rigoberto Uran up on the left of the bunch. I was pretty close to the front, probably in 30th or 40th position, and I just hit something on the road. I don’t know what it was, probably either a hole or a rock, but the impact wrenched the bars out of my hands and I lost complete control of the bike.

It is not often you go down without having a bit of warning, a bit of time to brake or to prepare yourself. But with this I had no time to react. It was like I had fallen out of a tree . . . I went down pretty hard.

I got up slowly and the team put me back on the bike. Two guys waited for me and we chased, somehow only losing a minute and a half.

I was in a whole lot of pain on the way back and once we got to the finish, there was just one thing on my mind: getting to the shelter of the team bus.

I basically just collapsed on my seat in the bus. I was saying random things, I was taking my ripped clothes off as fast as I could. I was in complete shock and they ended up having to get ambulance for me…I was shaking pretty violently and hyperventilating. I was in a pretty bad way for a bit there.

I knew I hit my head; I was a bit fuzzy-headed. But it was more the pain in my hip that I was worried about. When I was in the hospital I was pretty sure that I had broken my pelvis or something, so when the X-rays came back all clear, it was very positive.

Silver lining
There was another bonus: Seville seems to have the hottest nurse population in the world. I had a couple of cute nurses cleaning out my wounds and helping to get me patched me up. That was a bit of a silver lining!

As regards the concussion, the doctor had his suspicions immediately at the finish. We decided to wait and see how I was on Saturday – there is no point in saying the night before the race that you can’t start the next day. We are always optimistic. Who knows how you are going to wake up after a good night’s sleep?

However, while my balance was fine after the race, when I tried standing on one leg the next morning, I pretty much fell over. So that confirmed I had a bit of a concussion.

I had big plans for the Vuelta, wanting to win stages and see how the overall worked out. But when it came to the decision, it wasn’t difficult for me to stop. There was no question of me riding as I felt really bad.

The race was honestly the furthest thing from my mind. For example, during the day I noticed I couldn’t even look at my cellphone.

The light from the screen was really hurting my head to look at it, although by Saturday night I started to fell pretty much back to normal.

It is at that point that you start to look at the results of the stage, and say: “Damn, I’m actually out of the Vuelta.”

Encouraging performance
One regret was not being there when Nico [Nicolas Roche] took over the general classification and got the red jersey. It would have been great to ride next to him on Sunday. But I can take encouragement from his great performance – seeing him being successful makes me believe that I could be really successful in this race as well.

I stayed on the race for a couple of days; the team has a no-fly policy after you bang your head. I’ll head home Monday and start training on Tuesday. I’m keen to get back on the bike, doing easy spins for a couple of days. When I am ready, I’ll knuckle down again. OK, I’m out of the Vuelta, but the world championships remain a big goal for me. I’m still intent on having a big performance there.

The team will look at the race programme and see if I can do something else. The Tour of Britain is one possibility, although the guys on the team for it have had that on their programme for a long time. I don’t want to be the one who says: “Get out, I want to race.” If a space comes my way, if another guy can’t take part, I’ll definitely be interested in taking it.

I considered the Vuelta to be the perfect preparation for the worlds.

Moving on
But maybe this is a blessing in disguise, I can train hard and then try to do a different race. I seem to remember a certain Mr Cavendish, who pulled out on stage four of the Vuelta in 2011, and then he went on to do the Tour of Britain and win the worlds.

I do think it could be a positive thing. I am going to take it that way.

I’m not someone who has regrets. I’m going to go back home and train harder than ever, all the time thinking about the worlds in Florence.