Monday 22 May 2017

Nicolas Roche Diary: 'I was so happy to hear that Dan had won'

Etixx-QuickStep's Irish rider Daniel Martin celebrates with the trophy on the podium after winning stage 3 of the Volta a Catalunya (Getty Images)
Etixx-QuickStep's Irish rider Daniel Martin celebrates with the trophy on the podium after winning stage 3 of the Volta a Catalunya (Getty Images)

Nicolas Roche

Wednesday, March 23, Stage 3: Girona to La Molina (172km). Today's stage began with one of the fastest neutral sections I have ever done. Normally ridden at a controlled pace to get the peloton out of the built-up area at the start, the neutralised zone gives everyone time to warm up a little before the flag is dropped at 'kilometre zero' and the racing begins.

If somebody has a puncture in this section, the race commissaire will ensure we roll along for a bit longer to make sure they regain contact and are ready to race before the flag is dropped.

Today though, for some unknown reason, the racing began as soon as my bum hit the saddle and we were doing 50kph in this zone.

Even when one of the Trek Factory guys punctured right beside me, before the racing was due to start, the peloton never eased up at all and I didn't envy his chase to regaining contact.

The first kilometres were quite twisty and rolly but even when seven lower-placed guys went clear, the pace didn't really let up and the gap came back down to five seconds before a big stall saw them snap the invisible elastic to the peloton and go free after 15km.

After that it was proper slow.

With four first-category climbs en route to the mountain-top finish at La Molina, the Cofidis team of race leader and sprinter Nacer Bouhanni had no interest in chasing the break and for a long time nobody seemed interested at all. After just 25km the break had opened a lead of 12 minutes.

In situations like that, the pressure is always on us to ride at the front. One, because we usually have the team to do it and, two, because that's what we usually do. We like to control the race.

I had a few words with our Belarussian strongman Vasil Kyryienka and we agreed that we needed to do something but we also knew that if we started riding we would more than likely be left out there all day.

After a quick chat with our directeur sportif Nicolas Portal, Kyryi and I went to the front, hoping that when we started to ride we would be joined by some of the Tinkoff-Saxo squad or the Spanish Movistar team - both of whom have very strong teams here, and a good chance of winning the race overall. The minute we started riding, Imanol Erviti of Movistar came up and gave us a hand and the three of us set about bringing the gap down. We spent the next 90km or so sharing the workload at the front and by the time we reached the second climb of the day, the 10km long Alt de Tosos, had closed it to just a couple of minutes.

Near the top, though, more Movistar guys came up and they really lit it up in the last couple of kilometres of the ascent.

The increase in tempo blew the three of us down through the peloton until we were out the back door in a group of about 25 riders as we approached the summit.

With the feed zone on a brief plateau just after the top, I was hoping there would be a lull so that I could claw my way back on and give a hand on the next climb.

Here, we had team carers on the side of the road; some with food and bottles in a musette while others held rain capes aloft for the cold descent ahead. The day had started off at 18 degrees and sunny but now the mountainside was lined with snow and it was freezing.

I hadn't felt the cold when I was riding hard on the front but as I knew that I was more than likely going to be spending the rest of the stage in the group I was in, and that we had a second team car behind the group if I needed food, I snatched a rain jacket to keep me warm on the ride to the finish, 50km away.

Our group actually managed to regain contact with the rest of the peloton on the descent, but with the field strung out into one single line there was no way I could get back to the front and instead spent the next few kilometres just hanging onto the back of the bunch.

Once we hit the valley again and tackled the first of two ascents to the ski station at La Molina, the peloton exploded and we were out the back again.

Kyryi and I rode the last 35km with that group, grabbing another jacket and a bottle from the team car on the second time up.

Joked

With no radio signal, I didn't know what was going on up ahead until, about five kilometres from the finish, my old team-mate at Ag2r Sebastian Minard came up and told me that my cousin Dan Martin had won the stage ahead of Contador and Bardet but he didn't know where Froomey or 'G' had finished.

Having joked with him in the neutral zone about whether today was a day for a 'Dan attack', I was so happy to hear that Dan had won. Dan is race leader now, with six seconds over Contador, and if he can climb tomorrow the way he did today, has a great chance of winning the race.

When I got back to the bus, the guys were on the rollers warming down but I was so tired that I just grabbed my bag, rode the 3km to the hotel and grabbed a shower.

We still have Froomey, 'G' and Wout within half a minute or so of Dan's race lead and with another big day of climbing coming our way tomorrow, there's plenty more riding to be done.

Volta a Catalunya, Live, Eurosport 1, 2.30pm

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