The Amgen Tour of Califonia's fifth stage did not go as smoothly for Stefan Denifl as he would've liked. After riding in the break all day during Thursday’s long 217.4 kilometer stage between Seaside and Paso Robles, Denifl was caught up in dramatic incident just 15km out from the finish. The Leopard-Trek rider instigated an attack from the breakaway that drew out three-time World Champion Oscar Freire . The twosome looked likely to leave their breakaway companions behind and divide the spoils of stage victory.
"We were working together, we had a really good chance to come together to the finish. We had already two minutes to the peloton and the other guys in the break were also losing time," Denifl explained. The race then began to unravel for the 23-year-old Austrian when he punctured on a fast descent. "It was really fast there, but I managed to stop and then, they changed the wheel," he said. "It was all normal routine up to that point."
"Then [suddenly] it was really hectic with some team cars here and there. Then, I was crashed and I was lying on the floor," he said.
"It all happened so fast, and I can’t remember anything. The bike was destroyed and they’ve nearly run over me."
Denifl was riding close to his team car when he crashed. The car then hit his shoulder, tearing off his jersey and leaving deep cuts. The resulting photos were dramatic.
"I was just happy [that it wasn’t worse]. I saw the photo today with the car, and I was happy that nothing more happened. It was really scary, I saw [the photo] today, because some of my Twitter followers posted it, and then, I was like, oh God."
Despite the frightening photos, the Leopard-Trek rider escaped without serious incident. "I’m happy that I’m here now, and nothing is broken and I can go on." He suffered some deep cuts, and went to the start today with a heavily bandaged elbow. Though Denifl did not think he had much chance of beating Freire, he was disappointed to crash out of the move.
"For sure it would have been a good chance, but these things happen [sic]," he said.
Denifl is better known for his climbing and time trialing talents than for a having fast finish. He began his career racing mountain bikes, and in 2008 won the Austrian National Championship in the time trial. Even had he not beaten the speedy Freire, second on the stage would have been a nice result for Denifl.
"It would just be cool to come to the line with him," Denifl said of Freire.
Looking ahead, Denifl will continue to ride in support of Leopard-Trek’s general classification hopes, Andy Schleck and Linus Gerdemann, who both remain in the top ten after Friday’s Solvang time trial.
"It was a hard night, to be honest, but now the weather is good again, so I’m motivated for the next days. We will try to keep fighting," he said.