Today’s stage in the Dauphine started on narrow, wet roads, and the action began immediately. No more than 3 miles into the stage, a crash hit, taking down 5 or 6 riders. I was still upright, but just barely as I had one rider riding piggy back on me as his front wheel tried to ride up my leg, and his spokes ate my shoe! I fought the bike hard to keep it upright with the extra weight and force of the rider almost pulling me down. As the riders in front me pulled away and a gap opened up again, I was able to let off the brakes and push hard on the pedals to free myself from my unwanted friend. I'm not even sure what happened happen to him as I had to start sprinting immediately to close the gaps that had formed in front of me and stay with the peloton, which was now a long single file line that ran the length of a few football fields.
Right away, I noticed that I hadn't come out of the crash unscathed. My left shoe buckle had been torn off by the spokes, while my rear derailleur had been through a fight of its own. As a result, I had lost the 11 and 12 tooth cogs. At that moment, there was no time to fix any of the problems as the first climb of the day at 6 miles into the race was coming up fast. With no break off yet I knew the climb was going to be interesting, as I was at the back of the group riding a handicap bike with only a shoe and half to work with. Guys around me were on the limit as the field began stretching out with gaps opening up all around me. It was a good thing the climb was only a mile and half long, or I might have been in some serious trouble! As it was the top of the climb came just soon enough that the gaps that had opened up weren't too difficult to close, all things considered.
Shortly after the climb a group of 5 escaped off the front, the pace in the field mellowed out, and it was time to do some damage control. My team director, Gallo, who was driving the car that held my replacement shoe and bike, had everything ready to go when I stopped on the side of the road. The car stopped just behind me as I was off my bike bent over and removing my broken shoe. I yelled to the mechanic Juan as he stepped out of the car to toss my shoe to me before grabbing my spare bike. While he was getting the bike, I was changing my custom insoles from one shoe to the next. I had the shoe on just as my bike appeared and in no time at all Gallo was pushing me down the road once again, where I had two teammates waiting to take me back to the front.
We started flying down the twisty wet descent, diving in and out of the corners, passing the caravan of cars with inches to spare. As we passed each director’s car they would honk the car horn to warn the car in front that we were coming by.
After a few turns I realized that all was not right with the new bike. The rush job to get all of the new bikes ready in time for the Dauphine had left something forgotten. While I dove through one of the tight corners, the bars had started to turn in a direction of their own! Now, some problems you can live with and get through the day, but a loose stem isn't one of them! I slowed the bike, carefully maneuvering it to the side of the road, and waited for the second team car, driven by Jose Azevedo, to appear, since Gallo was still way behind repairing my first bike.
Ace looked at the problem for a second before he realized that between himself (our second director) and the team doctor, who was his only companion in the car, and with no tools between them, that we were going to have to improvise. Ace grab Tomas' bike - which is at least two sizes too big for me - off the roof and off I went again. I think it was almost a toss up to decide which was less dangerous to ride down a technical descent, with the too large bike coming out just ahead over the loose stem.
I made it down the hill and back to the group on Tomas’ bike just as Gallo radioed to me that he had my first bike up and going again. I stopped again on the right side of the road as Gallo's car came flying to a stop just behind me. Juan came jetting out of the car once again, and before I knew it I was back on my original bike in the group and pedaling along as if nothing had happened, with only my single red shoe cover showing evidence of the day’s drama.
The rest of the day was much calmer with only great scenery viewing to pass the time until it was once again time for final fight between the sprinters to the line. But one HTC-Columbia rider had his own story to tell as we were all fighting for space on the road with less than 5 miles to go. I watched him drop off the road into a two foot deep ditch, flying end over end with his bike launching up and into the air. It was unbelievable!
The original break was reeled in with less than two miles to go to finish. They came through the field at us like parked cars in the middle of the road. Riders were going in every direction but straight in order to avoid them. After they all passed through I was next to Alberto Contador. We looked at each with the same thought reflected in our eyes, “Let's get out of here!” But, having survived another stage, tomorrow’s individually time trial should hopefully be a little less dramatic!