Nicolas Roche: 'Losing Mikel is a blow but there's a lot to fight for'
Tuesday May 17, Stage 10: Campi Bisenzio to Sestola (220km)
After a brief respite from racing yesterday, the Giro kicked back into gear today with one of the hardest stages of the race.
Apart from the opening 20km this morning there wasn't one bit of flat road to be found all day.
With team leader Mikel Landa starting the day in eighth place overall, we were wary of a big breakaway group going clear early in the stage and possibly taking lots of time, so we aimed to keep an eye on things from the start.
Philip Deignan and Christian Knees were in charge of controlling the opening 22km of dual carriageway, keeping an eye on the moves, making sure that none of the overall contenders managed to slip into them and ride off into the sunset.
As we approached the first climb of the day, the third-category Passo della Collina, Sebastian Henao and I took over on the front of the peloton.
Three or four kilometres into the climb though, our directeur sportif, Dario, came over the team radio.
"Can David and some of the guys stay around Mikel on the climb? He's not feeling great."
The Astana team must have noticed Mikel struggling at the back of the peloton soon after because they put the whole team on the front and really upped the tempo.
Mikel Nieve and David Lopez stayed with Mikel on the ascent, but he couldn't follow their wheels and by the time we crested the summit we were told that they were five minutes down.
I thought Mikel had just been having a hard start to the stage, as I've often had after rest days, but when I heard that, I thought, 'Oh s**t! Something must be wrong'.
On the descent, Ian Boswell came up and told me Mikel was sick and just felt empty. If it had happened on tomorrow's flatter stage he might have got away with it, but today was not the day to be empty.
By the third-category grind to Pietracolora after 67km, a large group had gone clear so we were told to just stay with the peloton and see what happened on the final two climbs.
With our team leader gone, the rest of us just followed the wheels before Kneesy led myself and Sebastian towards the front at the bottom of the 12km first-category Pian del Falco after 191km.
Here, the Astana team really lit it up again and four kilometres from the top I was struggling off the back as Sebastian hung onto a group of overall contenders that drove clear.
I found myself with a dozen riders for company with 20km to go and finished four and a half minutes down.
With Landa out of the race, Mikel Nieve and David Lopez, who had tried to nurse him along, had a hard chase to regain contact with the peloton, which was five minutes up the road at one point.
Luckily for them, French sprinter Arnaud Demare had punctured on the second climb and his whole FDJ team waited to help pace him to the line. The guys eventually caught that group, which swelled to 35 riders on the way to the line, and finished over half an hour down on surprise stage winner Giulio Ciccone.
Although losing Mikel was a big blow to our hopes of winning this Giro, there is still plenty to fight for over the next two weeks and on the transfer to our next hotel after this evening, it was good to see that nobody is willing to give up just yet.
Already we're talking about sticking together, getting in breakaways and trying to win stages on this Giro.
It may be a different race for us now, but it's not over yet.
Giro d'Italia, Live, Eurosport, 1.30