Nicolas Roche Vuelta Diary: 'It was good for the morale to be back in the mix and on the podium'
Saturday, August 22: Team Time Trial Puerto Banus to Marbella (7.4km)
Because our team hotel was an hour away from this evening's team time trial route along the beach and the times taken on the stage wouldn't count towards the overall classification due to safety concerns, we didn't do our usual time trial route recon this morning, instead opting for a two hour training loop around our base in Malaga.
With an 8.30pm start making for a pretty long day, we had massage after training instead of our usual post-stage rub.
The initial plan was to leave for Puerto Banus at around 3.0pm but that was changed to 5.0pm so we had a bit more time to relax after lunch, meaning I had time to get a haircut and a short afternoon nap in before leaving the hotel.
We still arrived at the start village with a couple of hours to spare so I had time to say hello to my fiancée Debbie, who is working on the Vuelta, before getting ready for the stage.
We watched some of the teams on TV and I was surprised how many of them seemed to be going flat out on the treacherous surfaces of loose sand and dirt.
Some teams had five or six guys riding for the stage win while their leaders took a more cautious approach, sitting back and making sure they got to the line safely.
With a pretty solid team here, in normal circumstances I'd like to think we'd have been in contention for the stage win but with Chris Froome a real contender for overall victory here, we all agreed it wasn't worth taking the risk of riding full gas and somebody crashing out and possibly leaving Froomey short on help if he needed it later on in the race.
After a warm-up on the rollers we made our way to the start but there was barely room at the end of the pier for one team, so we had to pull in halfway along the pier and wait to let the team ahead of us go past before rolling up to the start.
The narrow concrete strip saw us lined up pretty tight and as we started I ended up getting a bit squashed in and had to pull my foot out of the pedal.
The stage itself, which took in various surfaces from concrete to sand, plastic tiles, rubber mats and marble, was so narrow that there were only three or four of us taking turns at the front in order to minimise the risk of touching wheels as we drifted back down the line.
Although we rode at around 48kph average pace, we finished over a minute down on winners BMC who obviously took a fair amount of risk.
Peter Velits, who was first across the line for BMC, took the first red jersey of Vuelta race leader but the neutralised result means everybody begins again tomorrow on the same time.
We rode the finishing climb a few days ago and it's pretty tough so I'm sure there will be time gaps opened at the line.
Sunday, August 23, Stage 2: Alhaurin de la Torre to Caminito del Rey (158.7km)
With the mercury rising to 35 degrees this morning, the roads shone like mirrors ahead of us as we rolled out from the start.
After an aggressive opening, it took 20km for a breakaway of six riders to go clear, the sextet gaining three minutes before the Movistar team of Tour de France podium finishers Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde took up the chase at the front of the peloton.
A lull in proceedings after 50km enticed me to stop for a pee and I returned to the peloton to find that my Colombian team-mate Sergio Henao had taken a bit of a tumble on a corner, leaving a bit of skin on the road behind him.
Another big crash with 30km to go decimated the peloton, leaving three distinct groups on the road. While the crash happened on the opposite side of the road to us and we got through unscathed, Mikel Nieve was caught in the second group for a bit while Salvatore Puccio, who was coming back with bottles when it happened, got stuck behind the third group.
With the finishing climb starting with 5km to go, and the escapees reeled in, Geraint Thomas moved up the outside of the peloton 3km beforehand with myself, Sergio, Mikel and Froomey in tow.
I was in fourth place behind Cameron Meyer and Esteban Chaves of Orica GreenEdge and Daniel Moreno of Katusha, when Froomey rode alongside me.
"Nico, if you want to have a go and follow the early moves, go for it"
'G' pulled over with 4km to go and immediately French climber Cyril Gautier of Europcar attacked.
When Quintana went after him 500m later, I followed suit but Tom Dumoulin of Giant Alpecin and Louis Meintjes of MTN Qhubeka came past both of us.
I jumped after the duo with Quintana, and the Colombian climber set a pace that pulled the four of us a few seconds clear.
When Meintjes was dropped with 2km to go, I knew there was still a long way to go and was happy to let Quintana ride.
I looked back and saw my cousin Dan Martin was the nearest rider, trying to get across the gap, so I didn't know where the hell Chaves came from when he flew past us 200m later.
I went after Chaves and with Quintana dropped, there were three of us left with 1.5km to go.
Having ridden the climb a few days earlier, I knew it got really steep before flattening out towards the top and figured that if I attacked on the steep part it might give me a couple of seconds lead heading onto the flatter section so I kicked for glory with 600m to go.
But I went too early, the steep bit was longer than I remembered and Chaves was very strong, closing the gap immediately and attacking to win the stage with Dumoulin second and me third.
Although I completely mistimed my attack and might have done better if I'd stayed calm, it was good for the morale to be back in the mix and get my first podium of the year after a lot of hard work and sacrifice.
I'm third overall now, 15 seconds behind new race leader Chaves but it's only day two, there is a very long way to go and we have bigger fish to fry.
Vuelta a Espana
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