Nicolas Roche: 'By the time Sebastian caught me, I was in the red and wasn't much use to him'
Saturday, May 21, Stage 14:
Aplago to Corvara (210km)
After my Spanish team-mate Mikel Nieve's stage victory yesterday he had to go to the podium, so the plan was that one of the team cars would wait for him as we left the finish area on the team bus.
With only one way out of town though, the race traffic meant that by the time we drove as far as the podium, Mikel's presentation was finished so he opted for the comfort of the bus rather than the speed of the team car.
Although we have hot showers, reclining leather armchairs and more space to relax on the bus, the carers had put Mikel's bag with food and a change of clothes into the team car so he had to wait a few minutes until we got out of town before they could swap things over.
A two-hour transfer meant that, after a very late dinner last night, we just about had time to celebrate his stage win with a glass of champagne before heading to bed ahead of this morning's mammoth mountain stage.
With six huge mountains and a long 210km day ahead of us we were up at 7.30 for breakfast, and another long drive to this morning's start.
Knowing there was a good chance that a group could go clear early on and build up enough time to stay away to the finish, we wanted to be represented in every move this morning.
Determined not to miss the break, I was possibly too active but eventually got myself into a 36-man move that slipped clear as we began the 70km ascent to the top of the first-category Passo Pordoi after 25km. Also in this group was King of the Mountains leader Damiano Cunego and his Nippo Vini Fantini team-mate Giacomo Berlato.
Knowing that Cunego could score more points if he stayed clear, Berlato set a solid tempo on the climb, with the rest of us happy to let him drag us along.
About 3km from the top though, Stefan Denifls of IAM attacked and changed everything. With the mountain points contested and Berlato now dropped, the pace eased and the attacks started coming.
After a fast descent, my Spanish team-mate David Lopez went clear. At the top of the Passo Sella, after 106km, he had 40 seconds on the rest of us, with the peloton seven minutes back.
Darwin Apatuma and I joined him on the descent but we were caught at the foot of the next climb, where Ruben Plaza of Orica GreenEdge jumped away on his own.
Although Plaza had two minutes as we approached the first category Passo Giau 55km later, an attack from Kantantsin Siutsou of Dimension Data at the bottom soon ate into that.
With myself, Apatuma and Jorge Priedler hanging on for dear life, the pace Siutsou set was enough to reel in Plaza by the top, but I was soon in the red and was dropped about 3km beforehand.
With the bunch three minutes behind me, I was in no man's land as I tackled the descent with 40km to go. At the bottom, I looked up to see the 10km long Passo Vaparola staring me in the face.
At that point I was completely on my knees so my directeur sportif Kurt Arvesen told me to take it easy and try to get my legs back so that I could give a hand to Sebastian Henao when he came up from the group behind.
When what was left of the peloton caught me though, Vincenzo Nibali had just attacked so he, Steven Kreuswijk of Lotto NL and Rafal Majka of Tinkoff just shot past me with the rest of the group splitting under the pressure. Mikel had just lost contact so I dropped back and paced him back into the group but when Alejandro Valverde put the pressure on again at the front I was dropped again.
Sebastian was a further 10-15 seconds off the back but unfortunately I wasn't much use to him by then, and he had to regain contact himself.
With five kilometres to reach the top and another 20km to the finish I'd completely blown up and just rode my own tempo to the summit.
On the descent, David de la Cruz of Ettix Quickstep was at the head of another chase group, trying to bring the white jersey of Bob Jungels back to the front, so rather than ride alone to the finish, I tried to hang onto them.
I managed to stay with them until we hit a short but very steep hill with 4km to go, before crawling to the finish with a handful of riders who were in a similar state to me. After the line however, I realised I still had 3km of climbing to go before I reached the team bus.
Thankfully a friend of mine who works on the race happened to be driving in the same direction. He slowed alongside me to say hello, so I hung onto his car door and stretched the chat out just long enough to be dropped off at the bus door. After a quick shower I grabbed some grub and jumped into one of the team cars instead of taking the bus. The journey was only about 70km today but it was all on mountain roads and my gamble seems to have paid off.
It's 7.30 now and while I haven't seen my room yet, at least I'm on the massage table. The bus is still out on the road.
Sunday, May 22, Stage 15:
Castelrotto to Alpe di Siusi - Mountain Time Trial (10.8km)
As I sat tightening the straps of my helmet on the bus before my stage start today, the words of my Welsh team-mate Luke Rowe came into my head and I couldn't help smiling.
Any time we stop for a coffee during the season, Luke is always the first one to stand up and head for his bike, spurring the rest of us into action with the words, 'Okay, let's go, this hill isn't going to climb itself.'
I felt a bit like that as I rolled down the start ramp this afternoon for my uphill race against the clock.
With my time unlikely to change anything on this Giro, I just rode it like a hard training session before hopping into the car for the drive to the next hotel.
While some of the overall contenders seemed to have an off day today, Russian Alexander Foliforov raised a few eyebrows by beating them all to win his first ever pro race.