During stage 5 of the Tour de France no less than six riders from the Quickstep team were among the riders who hit the asphalt. Unlucky enough the longest stage of the Tour was planned the next day. In the end all riders completed their journey to sacred Lisieux – France's second-most popular pilgrimage town behind Lourdes - although Tom Boonen, Sylvain Chavanel and Gert Steegmans had to dig deep to make it.
The Quickstep riders kept the moral high with a masochistic competition in the team bus. "Yesterday we did a small 'who has the most grazed skin' competition which Tom won by a huge margin. Now it's about turning the pedals, avoid thinking about it and riding the bike."
Team doctor Toon Cruyt explained that three riders had minor injuries while Boonen, Chavanel and especially Steegmans were a major concern. Boonen took much of the crash impact on his head and the former world champion seriously bruised the right side of his body. Chavanel was hurt as well but Cruyt pointed out the French champion's morale was amazing.
"Chavanel doesn't have a broken collarbone but it might be as painful as that," he explained. "It's remarkable to see that if things are improving only five per cent he's got [good] morale again."
Steegmans' wrist was seriously damaged, although the doctor couldn't tell how bad it was.
"Steegmans is the least fortunate," Cruyt said. "His left wrist is very painful and swollen this morning. We'll have to see if he can keep his bike under control today. He has a lot of tape around his wrist. He will not be able to move that a lot. He is in a lot of pain."
When getting ready to head to the start line of the medieval castle in Dinan it was clear the trio wasn't looking forward to the race action. A slightly downhearted Boonen explained he had trouble putting his helmet on because the backside of his head was swollen. "It's always been something this year," Boonen sighed.
More than five hours later the former world champion transmitted a more upbeat message. A clearly tortured and soaked Boonen was the first to get back in the team bus in Lisieux where it - miraculously - stopped raining and the sun started to shine when the peloton arrived. The Belgian one-day specialist took his time to refresh himself before talking to the media.
"It wasn't fun but now the sun is shining," he said. "It feels good to have made it but there's another tough day tomorrow. We'll take it step-by-step and see where we end up."
Boonen pointed out he hopes to play his role in this Tour de France. "I want to be recovered from this as soon as possible so I can defend myself like it should. The condition is there so it'll just eat some energy. Then hopefully I can recover on the rest day and have a good second part of the Tour. I didn't think about quitting. I try to think about other things. I was in pain and my neck hurts more than this morning. It'll get even worse before improving in two days. It's a whiplash. It's like that and you have to get over it. If you start to think about pulling out of the race then it's really long," Boonen said.
Steegmans should take some advice from Boonen because he struggled as much as expected while stepping into the broom wagon turned out to be tempting. He eventually finished in a group of twenty riders that crossed the line at more than twelve minutes from stage winner Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky).
"I certainly thought about stepping off the bike about 80 times," he admitted. "There was one moment I really thought it was over. If that moment would've come earlier I think I would not have ridden 30km. I continued kilometre by kilometre until the feed zone. I stopped there to pull off my rain jacket and eventually I finished. It feels better now than just a moment ago on the bike. It wasn't a fun day. My wrist bothers me enormously. It's nearly impossible to brake so I ride along but I can't race."
Being in such a bad health condition seems to make it useless to even start the next stage although Steggel thought differently.
"It would be stupid to ride 228km today and then just pull out. We'll look at it day by day and I hope it'll be a little bit better tomorrow. Tomorrow? It's long again. I'll ask them if they take some kilometres away for me. Or maybe I can ask if I can start halfway, that would be cool," Steegmans joked.
Steegmans could send out his special requests little later as the whole team would be heading to the pilgrimage area, requesting some good fortune from up above. "I might go and burn a candle," Boonen joked. "Oh, it's true, we all have to go actually," Boonen said. After completing their journey to the basilica in Lisieux the Quickstep boys can start their pilgrimage to Lourdes, the finish town of stage 13 on July 15.