Monday 24 October 2016

Nicolas Roche: 'I've been lucky to avoid all the crashes so far, but today my luck ran out'

Nicolas Roche

Published 31/08/2015 | 02:30

Giant-Alpecin’s Dutch cyclist Tom Dumoulin crosses the finish line to win stage nine of the Vuelta and reclaim the leader’s jersey
Giant-Alpecin’s Dutch cyclist Tom Dumoulin crosses the finish line to win stage nine of the Vuelta and reclaim the leader’s jersey

Saturday, August 29: Pueblo de don Fabrique to Murcia (188km)

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With today's stage profile mainly downhill for the first 100km or so, a five-man breakaway were just under five minutes up when the Tinkoff-Saxo and Giant-Alpecin teams began to ride together at the front of the peloton about 50km in.

Having switched from big wide roads to a single road with tram tracks on it as we entered Murcia after 133k, there was a massive crash behind me and I later found out that my cousin Dan Martin was one of those forced to quit the race due to injuries sustained in the smash.

Because we had to do a couple of loops around Murcia today we had four points along the route where we got fresh bottles handed up from the roadside by team carers, which meant that my German team-mate Christian Knees didn't have to go back to the car as much during the stage.

It also meant he was very strong in the finale and did a great job to get us into position before the first of two ascents of the third category climb of Alto del la Cresto del Gallo with 40km to go, which Vasil Kiryienka led us into so fast that I reminded him we had another lap to do.

After a 35km loop around Murcia, there was a huge drag race to get to the climb the second time, which Kiry won again, before Alejandro Valverde, who had begun the day just 13 seconds behind me in fifth place overall, attacked.

Chris Froome closed the gap before second overall Tom Dumoulin came up and set a fast pace up the climb. I'm not sure whether he was riding for his sprinter John Degenkolb or if he was trying to simply set a pace that suited him rather than face more attacks. My Colombian team-mate Sergio Henao slipped into a seven man group near the top but when they lost JJ Rojas of Movistar, who went over the barriers on the way down, we caught them on the descent with about 17km to go.

With 9km to go, Peter Sagan of Tinkoff-Saxo attacked but when he was closed down he swung over to the left, just at the same time a motorbike decided to fly past the bunch. I was in about 20th place but I could hear the bang as the motorbike walloped Sagan from behind at about 70kph.

One of the Trek guys took it up with about 6km to go and they managed to get the stage win with Jasper Stuyven while I crossed the line in 10th place for the third day in a row. I'm up to third place overall now, 36 seconds behind race leader Chaves, although Dan's misfortune was not the way I had hoped to leapfrog him.

Sunday, August 30, Stage 9: Toorevieja to Cumbre del Sol (168km)

There have been a lot of crashes in the last couple of days and while I've been lucky to avoid them so far, today, after about 30km, my luck ran out.

It's one thing crashing in crosswinds or a tight finish but crashing after 30km when the break is already established and a team has barely started riding on the front is very frustrating and unnecessary.

Riders were still trying to move up from the back but because of a cross headwind, couldn't get right to the front when they tried to squeeze back into the peloton.

The problem with that is there are already riders in that space and somebody inevitably gets squeezed and a touch of wheels is inevitable.

I was about 10th place in the peloton when it happened.

Two or three guys in front of me hit the deck and there was no way of stopping in time. Although I managed to lock up my wheels, a few guys from behind weren't as quick and 10 or 15 of us ended up on the ground.

Myself, Valverde and Louis Meintjes of MTN-Qhubeka were at the bottom of the pile and although I bounced back up pretty quick my chain was off and I was fighting to put it back on when our mechanic arrived with my spare bike.

'Kiry' paced me back into the peloton, where I waited at the back as things calmed down before drifting down to the team car with 'Kneesy' to adjust my saddle, which I felt was pointing up a teeny bit.

While 'Kneesy' stocked up on bottles for the lads, I grabbed an Allen key from the mechanic and straightened it myself until I felt it was perfect.

Up front, Geraint Thomas had infiltrated the break and was doing a great ride although it was going to be touch and go whether his group would stay away to the end.

The heat today felt very different to what we've experienced so far and even though the 75pc humidity saw me take my glasses off with 20km to go in an effort to let some air at my face, the first of two ascents of the second category Alto de Puig Lorenca with 40km to go, still felt like riding in an oven.

With an extra kilometre added to the second ascent with 4km to go, I wanted to pace myself and limit my losses on the way to the summit finish. Orica-GreenEdge led race leader Chaves into the climb while Ian Boswell and Salvatore Puccio did a great job alongside them to get us into good position.

The true climbers, like Nairo Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez, are a step above me on these type of climbs so I had no plan to attack them on the way up.

When the attacks did come, they seemed to stall each time and I managed to claw my way back onto the group on two or three occasions, so I figured I had two choices.

I could ease up with them and try to recover, or I try to attack to get a few seconds head start for the next steep section.


When Dumoulin jumped away with 2km left, I tried to go after him but Chaves was onto me in a flash and I drifted back down the group as more attacks came.

I clawed my way back to the front just as we went under the kilometre-to-go banner and attacked again with Chaves again closing me down.

With 'Froomey' in the group and going pretty well I tried to pull for him but only lasted a few metres before he attacked in pursuit of Dumoulin.

With 'Froomey' getting up to Domoulin for second on the stage, the last kilometre was a kilometre of pain for me. I could see Valverde having a hard time ahead of me so I tried to get up and attack him but we were both on the limit and couldn't do much other than get to the top, where I finished eighth, 31 seconds behind Dumoulin.

I haven't dug as deep as today in a long time and couldn't stop after the line because I would have fallen over.

Instead, I continued for a few hundred metres before plopping down on the road beside a radio antenna, where a former team-mate, Inigo Costa, who now drives a commissaire's car on the Vuelta, came over and poured a bottle of water on my head before giving me the rest to drink.

While Dumoulin took the lead off Chaves today, Rodriguez jumped over me so I'm now down to fourth overall 1'07" behind the new race leader.

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