Losing skin, a teammate but not the motivation to race hard
Descents can be pretty sketchy at the best of times, as bike racers we are hyper aware of where our limits are, it’s part of our jobs to constantly nudge against them to see if we can inch them just that little bit further. But sometimes, like on stage 13, no matter where your limits are, if there’s a corner on a descent with a load of gravel and you hit it at around 60kph, factors out of your control decide for you that you’re going to hit the deck...hard.
It was a bad crash, there were around 30 guys on the floor, some going into the bushes or over a ravine. To say it was a bit sh*t, is probably an understatement. I remember looking straight away to my knee and seeing it was bleeding pretty heavily and there was a big hole in it. I didn’t really know what to do, then Diego, our team mechanic, came with a new bike and I jumped back on and tried to get myself ready to get back to the bunch. It’s one of those things that you can’t really get your head around, in those moments something else takes over, you go into autopilot and get back to work, but it’s not always easy.
I didn’t feel a lot of pain as I was riding back to the bunch, but then as soon as I was with them and I had time to settle down, the adrenaline started to subside and that’s when you start to feel it. Post-stage the knee needed some stitches in it, and I thought it was going to be really sore for the last two stages, but even with the injury I’ve felt surprisingly good.
Reflecting back over the last week, the one thing that wasn’t surprising was how brutal the Mont Ventoux stage was. I quite “enjoyed” the first time up, G was riding on the front, we were trying to make the race really hard and go for the stage win, which didn’t quite work out, but we gave it a good try at least. The second time up was when I really regretted the first ascent, my enjoyment levels on Mont Ventoux round two weren’t quite so high.
My job for the day was done by the second ascent and I was creeping up. It’s such a straight climb, you can’t be distracted by the views for a start because of the forest, you’re unable to really see where you’re heading, it’s just a mental game. It’s no steeper than some of the other climbs we do, it’s just how it’s laid out. When you eventually see the weather station it feels a long time before it comes closer. But once you’re at the top the views are pretty awesome, it’s cool to ride over the concrete section with the knowledge that you’ve just ridden such a legendary climb.
That day though the Tour dished out another cruel blow to us as a team. When I saw Luke [Rowe] afterwards, I knew that he was really disappointed, he felt like he’d let us down. That’s the way the Tour is, if you have a bad day on a hard stage then you know you’re going to suffer and have to fight for the time limit. In moments like that you just have to try and let them know that he hadn’t let us down. We all know that could have been any one of us in his position.
We will miss him big time, he’s basically our sports director on the road, he has so much racing knowledge. He knows where we need to be positioned in the peloton, he’s super important in the team. If he says, “We’re moving to the front”, then we do what he says, because we know he knows. We all have a lot of trust in him, it was really tough to see him go.
When I think back to that stage it was crazy, Vingegaard really impressed a lot of people when he dropped Pogačar, that was a special ride by him. Then Wout van Aert, being a Classics rider, then winning on Ventoux, that’s something that doesn't happen too often. He’s such a versatile rider. He can climb, he can sprint, he can win Classics, he also wins time trials. He can just do everything.
Looking ahead to the final week, we’ll get to see if Cav’s fairytale can come true and if he can beat Merckx’s record. If we were to have a conversation, even just a month ago, about whether he could equal it, no one would have thought it would happen, but he’s done it. If he beats the record on the Champs-Èlysèes that would be legendary, no? Although, if he gets the record I don’t think it matters where it will be, and anyway even if he doesn’t, four stage wins at this Tour, that’s mighty impressive in itself.
Once again this week I’ve been inspired by Carapaz and how he’s raced. He really likes a hard race, which of course for us is sh*t because unfortunately that means we also need to go hard. Haha! But racing hard at least makes the race interesting, like on stage 15, our plan was that Castro and I would get into the break and then wait on top of the penultimate climb. We knew it was going to be another stage where we’d have to dig deep, so you prepare yourself mentally for that when you’re on the start line. It’s what we’re here for, we all want him to be on that podium in Paris.
Even though stages like yesterday are tough, I’ve come away from them feeling really happy. I know I can go over climbs pretty well, but since the crash I’ve felt good on the bike, and it’s great when you have that feeling, especially when you’re giving it your all and a plan comes together quite well. I’m pleased that I can do my job, and maybe better than what I expected I was capable of doing. It’s one of the things I’m most happy about this week. Well, that and winning our team Euros sweepstake. I luckily managed to draw both England and Italy, so went into last night’s final in a win-win situation. Another positive to take away from this last week.
Today’s rest day I’ve actually been looking less forward to than what I was the first rest day. Before the first rest day I was completely empty and pretty tired, but now I feel like I’ve found my flow and it’s tough to break it, you just want to keep going. You can almost smell Paris, it feels that close.
The final week is going to be another tough one, with two mountain top finishes there’s always going to be a big battle, especially with how close Carapaz is to the others on GC. Then it’s just one final time trial and we’re onto Paris. You’re always excited about getting there, but especially this year, because the Olympics are on the horizon, it’s something to look forward to as well. If we can finish with Carapaz on the podium that will be the cherry on top of the cake.