Friday 22 September 2017

Nicolas Roche Diary: 'My team-mate crashed into the back of a parked police bike'

Nicolas Roche crosses the line in 22nd place after the 146km stage from Graus to Aramon Formigal
Nicolas Roche crosses the line in 22nd place after the 146km stage from Graus to Aramon Formigal

Nicolas Roche

Our last day in the Pyrenees got off to a flier as non-stop attacking from the start saw us cover 47km in the first hour of racing this morning, and that included 6km of climbing the third-category Puerto de la Foradada.

Monday, September 9, Stage 16:

Graus – Aramon Formigal 146.8km

My Saxo-Tinkoff team-mate Chris Anker Sorensen was in the move when a nine-man group finally got clear after the first intermediate sprint, about 55km into the stage, but they didn't get too far out of sight.

On the second-category Puerto de Cotefablo after 87km, some more attacking saw another of my team-mates, Nicki Sorensen, go across to the leaders with a handful of chasers. As the peloton crested the Cotefablo, the Astana team of race leader Vincenzo Nibali took control at the front and we descended cautiously before a bit of a truce in the valley saw half the bunch stop for a much-needed pee as the escapees opened their advantage to around three minutes.

Calculated

Euskaltel took over the chase. Although they had Egoi Martinez in the break, the squad began today in second place overall in the team classification, which is calculated on the three best finishers from each team every day.

As my Saxo-Tinkoff squad and Valverde's Movistar team had two men up the road, Euskaltel knew they'd most likely drop to fifth if they didn't bring them back, or at least close the gap before the finish.

On a brief descent before the second half of the final climb, I noticed my Saxo-Tinkoff team car parked on the grass verge while Nicki's bike lay alongside it on the road. As often happens when the race is strung out, Nicki had been following the wheels on the descent when the rider in front of him suddenly flicked around an obstacle at the last second and gave my team-mate no time to react.

Nicki went straight into the back of a parked police motorbike, and while he remounted and finished the stage, he's pretty banged up and needed six or seven stitches in his wrist afterwards.

Rafal Majka and Oliver Zaugg did a great job to keep me sheltered from the strong headwind for as long as they could on the ascent to the finish. Third-placed Valverde was the first to attack with 3km to go, but he was reeled in within a few hundred metres.

As we caught him there was a little lull as everyone looked to see what would happen next. I seized the chance and attacked up the inside of the group with just over 2km remaining.

Unfortunately, fourth-placed Joaquim Rodriguez was the first one up to me and the little Spanish climber flew past me like a rocket. Chasing him was second overall Chris Horner and he started to go past me. I knew I only had two options. I could either go all out to try and follow him for as long as I could in the hope that I would gain some time on the others and move back into the top five, or I could forget about him and just drift back into the group and try to hang on to them to the top.

I dug as deep as possible and tried to hang on to Horner until the death, but he was so strong that I could only stay with him for a kilometre before fading.

As race leader Nibali cracked behind, Alejandro Valverde rode across to me with Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, who had begun the day a minute and 10 seconds behind me in seventh place overall.

I didn't want to lose time to either of them but had nothing left to stay with them or Sammy Sanchez, who also passed me in the last kilometre. By that point, Domenico Pozzovivo had made his way up to my wheel.

I'd begun the day just six seconds off Pozzovivo's fifth place and my original aim was to take time out of the Italian climber and move up to fifth, but I was now more worried about Pinot taking time out of me and forcing me back to seventh.

With Pozzovivo glued to my wheel, I rode as hard as I could until 300m to go, where I slowed down and tried to do a sprint to drop him and get a couple of seconds.

While I sprinted clear of Pozzovivo and probably opened a two-second gap, I cursed myself when I turned around to see Igor Anton had appeared from behind and finished in between us to cut my advantage to one second.

Disappointing

The Pyrenees have not been as good to me as I'd hoped. Unfortunately my bad day in the cold on Saturday killed me.

I was hoping that if I had a bad day on this Vuelta it would only cost me a minute or a minute and a half but it was really disappointing to lose three and a half minutes when lying in second place overall.

Today's efforts saw me close to within five seconds of fifth-placed Pozzovivo and even gain a surprising six seconds on race leader Nibali, but I'm disappointed to have lost 16 precious seconds to seventh-placed Pinot behind me.

We have a three-hour transfer to our hotel now so I'm lying in the back of the team bus, watching 'The Hobbit' on DVD to try and ease myself into tomorrow's second rest day.

After that, there are five stages left, four of which finish at the top of mountains. My goal is still to finish in the top five overall.

It's going to be a bigger challenge than it was two days ago but, as JRR Tolkien put it, it's the job that's never started as takes longest to finish.

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