Nicolas Roche: 'I thought I had the stage win but two riders flashed past'
Tuesday, August 25, Stage 4: Estepona to Vejar de la Frontera (209.6km)
With an hour-and-a-half transfer before today's long 209km stage, we were on the road earlier than usual this morning, leaving the hotel at 9.30.
To pass the journey, I was flicking through facebook when I got a message from a girl who'd been in my class at the French school in Foxrock that I went to as a kid.
It turned out that she was working as a nurse in the hospital across the road from the start, so she came over to the team bus with a couple of her friends. Although we've kept in touch, I haven't seen Aitana in around 18 years so it was nice to be able to have a quick chat and take a few photos before she had to run back to work.
On the way to the sign-on afterwards, I paid a quick visit to my fiancée Debbie who was delighted when I presented her with a little portion of her favourite home-made hazelnut spread from our team chef Henrik.
Because of road works near the start today, the stage was shortened but a really long neutralised section to get out of town actually added 10km to the day.
The breakaway went straight from the gun again and it took a long time before there was any reaction from the peloton, the Orica GreenEdge team of race leader Esteban Chaves eventually putting two men on the front when the lead ballooned to 14 minutes.
With they closed the gap to eight minutes, the Tinkoff-Saxo team of yesterday's stage winner Peter Sagan took over and began to reel the six leaders in.
Shortly after going through Cadiz, with around 50km to go, I thought I felt my back wheel slide a little bit on a corner so I employed the tried-and-trusted method of bouncing up and down on it for a few seconds to confirm I had a puncture.
Although our mechanic David Fernandez was quickly out of the team car with a new wheel for me, the speed was so fast that it took me a while to get regain contact with the back of the peloton where Ian Boswell was waiting to help pace me back up the outside and slotted me back in behind the rest of the guys near the front of the peloton.
With another short steep finish to the stage coming in the last 4.5km, teams drag-raced each other at the front of the peloton for the last 15km or so to try and get their men into a good position at the bottom.
Having watched a video of the climb on the bus this morning, I remembered there were two right turns leading onto the hill so although I was back in about 40th place, I knew I could move up if I stayed on the right-hand side of the road, which I managed to do.
I was in about 20th position at the bottom but with the climb split in two parts, I didn't want to move to the front too soon.
The first part was really steep but I knew that the road was due to go down again with 2km to go and was hoping that somebody would make a move there and I planned to go after them if they did.
I was about sixth in line, on the left-hand side of the bunch, when former Olympic champion Sammy Sanchez of BMC obliged with an attack, so I said right, 'Let's go with him'.
I jumped after the Basque rider and caught him within a few seconds but deliberately backed off a little on the next two downhill bends, which were pretty sketchy, in case Sanchez overcooked it and fell in front of me.
Sanchez was really going for it and dived into the five or six corners in the last kilometre. There wasn't much room to give him a hand but we still had a few seconds as we approached the second part of the climb with about 400m to go.
I knew the peloton were closing fast, so as soon we hit the second ramp I attacked as hard as I could and dropped Sanchez.
The finish was really steep but I put everything I had into it, hoping the couple of seconds I had would be enough to get me the stage win.
With 200m to go, I glanced over my shoulder on a right-hand curve and could see someone coming but I still had a lead. With 100m to go I was suffering but was still clear. 'Come on Nico,' I told myself. '50 metres. You can do it. Come on!'
Then with just 25 metres left, two green jerseys flashed past me. My head dropped as we hit the line and to rub salt into the wounds Daniel Moreno of Katusha passed me with literally inches to go and snatched third.
Unlike stage two, when I was third but made mistakes, today I did everything right and thought I had a real chance of winning.
To be beaten by the likes of Alejandro Valverde and Peter Sagan is nothing to be ashamed of, but you don't get too many chances to go for a Grand Tour stage win so I'm pretty disappointed not to be able to take mine today.
Vuelta, Live, Eurosport, 3.0