Nicolas Roche: 'My legs just went and I lost 30 seconds in 500m'
Thursday, May 12, Stage 6:
Ponte to Roccaraso (157km)
With the first mountain-top finish of this year's Giro lying in wait and the team buses leaving today's start early to drive the route in convoy ahead of us, we were delighted when the overnight rain storm stopped just as we exited the bus to sign in for the stage.
With 15km of flat dual carriageway to be covered before we began a gradual 35km climb to the top of the second-category Bocca di Selva, I began the stage with a pair of arm-warmers rolled down to my wrists, a light gilet over my jersey and a rain jacket in my pocket, just in case.
Despite a strong headwind blowing in our faces, the attacks came thick and fast with three riders eventually going clear just before we started climbing.
Knowing that I had another rain cape waiting for me with one of our team carers at the top, I dropped the one in my pocket back to the team car and rolled my arm-warmers down as we hit the slope.
With the sky still clear as we crested the summit, I didn't bother grabbing the rain jacket from the carer at the side of the road and just pulled my arm-warmers back up for the descent. Literally a kilometre later, though, I regretted that decision when the heavens opened.
With the rain hopping off the road, the Movistar team got to the front and hammered it down the 20km descent, splitting the bunch in pieces and leaving just 30 of us at the head of the peloton by the time we got to the valley floor after 75km. With the headwind still blowing, Movistar eased up again and three riders seized the opportunity and jumped clear in pursuit of the leaders.
Laurent Dider of Trek and the Lotto Soudal duo of Tim Wellens and Pim Ligthart spent another 10km chasing before they reached the front of the race. With two team-mates now five minutes up the road, leader Tom Dumoulin's Giant-Alpecin squad stopped riding, so the Lampre Merida and Orica-GreenEdge teams took over.
The leaders had six-and-a-half minutes at the bottom of the climb to the summit finish where Wellens jumped away and went on to win the stage alone. Behind, the Astana team of Vincenzo Nibali tore into the bottom of the final climb as Christian Knees and Philip Deignan kept us out of the wind just behind them.
When Astana's Jakob Fuglsang jumped away, our Spanish climber David Lopez went after him but we thought the Dane would come back to us in the wind and told David to save his energy for later.
Fuglsang, though, was joined by Kanstanstin Suitsov and opened a gap of over 40 seconds, becoming race leader on the road.
When Nibali attacked us with 3.5km to go, Mikel Nieve paced Mikel Landa and the rest of our group back up to him 500m later, only for Dumoulin to counter attack with Ag2r's Domenico Pozzovivo and Ilnur Zakarin of Katusha. By then, I was really starting to struggle and was near the back of the group as the trio shot across to Fuglsang and Suitsov with two kilometres to go.
With Nieve riding on the front, I moved up the group and rode just to the side ahead of our team leader Landa to try and keep him sheltered from the crosswind that was blowing hard across our shoulder.
With 600m to go, Tinkoff's Rafal Majka attacked our group and my legs just went and I lost 30 seconds between then and the line, finishing 27th on the stage.
Mikel finished 14th today and moved up to 15th overall. He lost ten seconds today but he knows this is a very long race and I think he rode today's stage quite controlled.
At the moment Dumoulin looks to be very strong and will probably hold onto his lead over the weekend.
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