I said in yesterday's diary that I hoped my team-mate and friend Christian Vande Velde would be able to get through the Tour after his big crash on Wednesday, but unfortunately that didn't happen. He went down again on yesterday's seventh stage and this time, it put him out of the race.
I was actually at the back when it happened because, in the neutral zone at the start, I had problems with my race radio. I went back to the team car about it, so I was right at the back. The start ended up being very fast, with the bunch hitting 70 kilometres per hour on the flat.
We were thundering along and then we turned onto a small road and two riders just got away. It was a swooping road, with a downhill that was probably a kilometre long and with a profile like a big dipper on a rollercoaster. . . it dropped down, kicked up, and then we could see the breakaway just going away.
The crash occurred at the bottom of the dip. Guys just lost concentration; you can imagine how – the breakaway is gone, they are starting to relax. The guys at the front hit the climb first and slowed down, then the guys behind who had so much momentum from the downhill just rode into the back of them.
I nearly got caught up in it too. The road was a little bit melted and that didn’t help with stopping. When I went to brake, both my wheels instantly locked up and I was skidding towards this big pile of bodies.
Luckily, I just about got it stopped in time, but it was certainly touch and go for a moment there. I could see all these other guys just running into the back of each other.
There ended up being a pile of about 30 guys on the ground; unfortunately Christian was at the bottom of that. He crashed the other day and had a few issues as a result, not least a screw coming lose in the collarbone plate he had inserted after a previous accident. If he hadn’t had that first fall, I think he might have been okay . . . but the second crash was the final straw.
It is a big loss for the team and we will all miss him. Fortunately he doesn't seem too badly hurt and it looks like he will be able to get back to racing a little later this year, his final season as a pro.
Later on after that, there was another scare for me when Peter Sagan's Cannondale team broke things up. I made an error of judgment; I stopped for a pee just before that team went ballistic. Luckily the whole Movistar team had also stopped, We got moving again, riding very fast up the climb, but we were not getting any closer to the peloton. We were looking at each other wondering what the heck was going on. Fortunately I was with two strong riders, Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana, and we were able to get back up. I think we were the only ones to do so out of the 15 guys who had stopped.
I was never actually stressed, but looking back it was a bit of a risky moment in the race. The riders who were left behind, such as Thursday's stage winner Mark Cavendish, ended up finishing almost 15 minutes behind. I could have lost everything in that one silly mistake. But it worked out in the end. I got back pretty comfortably, and that was a good sign for the next mountain stage.
That said, my legs weren’t feeling great – I didn’t drink enough on Thursday’s stage as the riders were so close together and we were moving quickly – it was scary in the bunch, too risky to take the hands off the bars. It meant I was dehydrated starting the next stage.
The mountains are next and so before then I will eat and drink a lot, getting myself ready for the big climbs.
Today’s stage is going to be very interesting: it will be the first mountain to climb in quite a while for me and the other riders. I haven’t trained on the climbs for two weeks now, so it is going to be a shock to the body going uphill. There are two big climbs and the first of those, the Pailhères, is supposed to be very hard. It will be an hour long and a lot of guys are going to suffer as a result. We will then have the final climb of Ax 3 Domaines, with the finish right at the top.
Personally, I think there is going to be a breakaway that goes clear early, with teams chasing afterwards.
With a bit of luck, the bunch will get them back and the riders from the peloton will be fighting it out for the stage victory at the end.
It’s going to be the first real shakeup in the race. It is certainly going to be an epic mountain stage. I feel good about it. It is my type of finish. I had a really good week building into it, and hopefully I have good legs.
After that, Sunday is also going to be a really hard day. It is a typical Pyrenean stage with five climbs. It is up and down, up and down, the profile like crocodile teeth. It is my type of day. It is the same type of stage that I won in the Volta a Catalunya, although it was a mountain top finish there.