One of Vincenzo Nibali's key domestiques, Jakob...

The bandaged lieutenant: Astana’s Fuglsang soldiers on

Outside of the Astana team bus Sunday morning, Jakob Fuglsang needed to be helped on to his bike to roll to the start line

TALLARD, France (VN) — Few riders in the Tour de France peloton are looking forward to Monday’s rest day as much as Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang.

On Friday the Danish rider crashed heavily while the peloton descended the Col de Palaquit when a water bottle, belonging to Jurgen Van den Broeck, bounced out of its cage and took out Fuglsang’s front wheel in a sweeping left-hand turn.

Fuglsang was able to quickly remount and finish stage 13, shredded and bloodied, 30 minutes down on Nibali, who won atop Chamrousse. Fuglsang suffered contusions, abrasions, and soreness all over his body; the worst of his injuries includes several bruised ribs on his left side. He spent the weekend recovering as best he could, covered in gauze.

On Saturday Fuglsang finished the mountainous stage 14, with its summit finish at Risoul, 13 minutes off the winning time. Outside of the Astana team bus Sunday morning, he needed to be helped on to his bike to roll over to the start line. He finished the stage in a group, 4:26 behind winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha).

Acknowledging that it’s often the second day after a crash that hurts the most, Fuglsang said that he’s suffering as much off the bike as he is on the bike.

“Today I’m more stiff than I was yesterday,” Fuglsang said. “Last night was, again, terrible. [Monday] is a rest day, and that’s very welcome.”

Prior to that incident, Fuglsang had arguably been the most valuable domestique of this Tour, particularly on stage 5, when the former under-23 world mountain-bike champion guided Vincenzo Nibali across wet and slippery cobblestones. Fuglsang finished second on that stage, 19 seconds behind Lars Boom, while Nibali took 2:09 from his closest rival, Alejandro Valverde.

Nibali now leads Valverde by 4:37, and with six stages remaining, the Italian is poised to stand on the podium in Paris next Sunday. The bulk of that GC lead came from stage 5, where Fuglsang was invaluable; he had been expected to be a key climbing domestique in the Alps and Pyrenees as well. With Fuglsang injured, Nibali has also looked to Tanel Kangert, Michele Scarponi, and Andrei Grivko as the roads turn upward.

At the start line in Tallard on Sunday, Fuglsang admitted that if he weren’t riding in support of the maillot jaune, his Tour de France might have ended on the Col de Palaquit.

“[The crash] could have gone much worse than it actually did,” Fuglsang said. “But I trained so hard for this Tour, and the team is doing really well, and they still need me, so I’m trying to [clench] my teeth and get through these first days, which are for sure the hardest… If we were a team that had already sent a few guys home, and nothing was working out for us, of course it would be more difficult [to continue].”

No stranger to riding for the classification at the Tour — Fuglsang finished seventh overall last year— the Danish rider signed with Astana for the 2013 season knowing that he would ultimately ride in support of Nibali.

In his build up to the Tour, Fuglsang placed in the top 10 at several stage races this season, including fifth overall at Paris-Nice, seventh overall at the Tour de Romandie, and 10th overall at Critérium du Dauphiné.

“My shape [condition] has been really, really good before [the crash], and that’s also why I still can be decent, even with the injuries,” Fuglsang said.

Fuglsang was sitting 10th overall when he crashed, and may have been able to maintain a top 10 GC finish while riding in support of Nibali. Instead, an errant water bottle wiped that away in an instant, putting the rest of his Tour in jeopardy and his body in agonizing pain.

The random twist of fate, which sent Fuglsang sliding across the pavement, is something he admits is difficult to reconcile.

“As they say, anything can happen up until the Tour finishes in Paris,” he said. “It was a water bottle on the road, and I saw it, and I thought, ‘I hope I miss it,’ because it was too late for me to react, and the next second I was on the road. It was just bad luck.”

After Monday’s rest day, Fuglsang will face his next big test on Tuesday’s stage 16, which features five categorized climbs, finishing with the hors categorie ascent of Port de Balès.