The start of today’s stage was a bit more interesting than planned. First, half the team missed the start…they were staying cool on the bus for as long as possible. But like always, we had a 9km neutral section, so there was no real danger.
We knew that today was another perfect opportunity for John, especially considering his propensity to go on hot streaks. After yesterday’s win, he would be that much more confident. So again we were looking to deliver John to a sprint while keeping Warren’s position on GC.
The first step in the plan is letting the right break go. Immediately Tony Martin attacked, which was fine on a day like today. Even with the sweltering heat, you never want him to have too much help, though, so after a Lotto rider jumped the road mysteriously became clogged with Giant and FDJ riders. As the gap grew, a MTN rider managed to sneak through the road block and go for it. The probability of closing the gap was slim, but he was going to try. As he began to fade on the rolling and twisty road, an uphill switchback appeared. FDJ took the inside, and it was clear they were going to sweep across at the exit of the turn to block him. In desperation, the MTN rider tried to cut inside harder. I knew what was about to happen before it happened and was able to avoid the pile when he washed out, but Koen and Johannes couldn’t.
Thankfully both suffered only minor road rash in the team’s first crashes of the Vuelta.
We put Tobias on the front immediately, as you can’t let a rider of Martin’s caliber get too far up the road. FDJ was also helping with the chase.
The gap started to immediately fall, and over the next two hours, we would ride slower and slower in an effort to keep from catching them too soon. It seemed the heat was a bit too much for the breakaway and they were begging to be put out of their misery. Finally Martin stopped altogether to rejoin the field. With just one rider out front in the heat and headwind, we were going really easy. Unfortunately, Lawson became the next casualty of the slick roads in a roundabout before the feedzone and became the third rider to hit the deck today. A fair bit of road rash, but he’ll be okay.
Expecting the same relaxed race until the only major climb of the day, we were a bit careless with our positioning as we started a small climb to yet another small town. Alarm bells started going off when Tinkoff-Saxo took over and cranked up the pace. The climb was actually fairly hard, and part of it was on cobbles.
Then, further up, there was a really hard bottleneck that brought us to a near trackstand. We were single file over the top and suddenly what had been a headwind all day was a cross-tail. On the fast descent with those winds, it didn’t take long for gaps to form.
Tobias, John, and Koen were in the first group, while I was in the second with Warren and Ramon. Ramon and I were working to get Warren back to the first group, getting considerable help from other teams—notably Garmin, who had also missed the split with their GC riders.
Warren would make it back, but Ramon and I couldn’t quite do it, while Tobias would come back to join us after helping John and Koen stay out of the wind until the proper climb began. Our grupetto would just cruise to the finish and save our legs. In a bizarre show of sympathy toward our teammates’ injuries, Ramon and I both got nosebleeds atop the final climb.
It wasn’t a perfect situation, but we at least had John and Warren up front with Koen to provide the leadout. And in the end, that proved enough, as John took his second stage win in as many days! There were definitely some lessons to take from today, but everything came out alright and we can do it better next time.
For now, we’ll just enjoy our champagne at dinner and celebrate John’s second win. Tomorrow Warren gets to come out and play on the first real uphill finish of the race.
5 down, 16 to go!