Nicolas Roche's Giro d'Italia diary: 'It's great to see Philip back doing what he does best'
Thursday May 29, Stage 18: Belluno – Rifugio Panarotta (171km)
With the first 40km of today's stage all uphill to the top of the first-category Passo san Pellegrino, we had another pretty hectic start to the day. The initial plan for my Tinkoff-Saxo team this morning was to have a rider, or riders, go clear in a small group so that they could drop back on the second climb and try and help us put pressure on the other contenders at the front of the peloton on the second-category ascent of Passo del Redebus after 120km.
While the other guys were free to try and get in the breakaway this morning, myself and our Aussie road captain Michael Rogers were to stay with Rafal Majka, who began the day in fifth place overall, and were to support him for as long as we could.
The thing about bike races is that you never know what type of scenario will unfold and you need four or five plans. Even then, you still always have to adapt out on the road.
There were groups bombing up the road all morning with some as big as 40 riders going clear. But the boys were really focused today and I don't think we missed one move on the opening climb.
It was flat out until about 10km from the top of the San Pellegrino, but with so many people jumping up the road there was always a chance that some of the overall contenders could slip into a move. As the attacks came and went, I stayed on the right hand side, towards the front of the bunch and with Rafal sheltered on my wheel, I tried to keep an eye on things.
Croatian rider Robert Kiserlovski, who had started the day 10th overall, and ninth-placed Ryder Hesjedal both had a few goes this morning, but the duo were pretty well marked this morning.
Near the top of the climb, 11 riders went clear, including my team-mate Ivan Rovny and my Irish Olympic squad room-mate Philip Deignan.
There weren't many riders left at the front of the peloton by that point though, and after Ivan Basso of Cannondale and two others made the junction to the break, the peloton relaxed a little bit on the descent.
With the group over eight minutes clear by the time we hit the second climb, there was no point in calling Ivan back to initiate 'Plan A'. He could have stopped and had a coffee while waiting on us.
Movistar were already setting a good pace at the front anyway, so there was no need for us to try anything.
I rode on the outside of Rafal to keep him out of the wind on the climb and as we went past our team soigneur at the top, I grabbed a bottle and an energy gel for my Polish team-mate and rode up to him with it on the descent so that he could keep his place near the front.
Rafal had a bit of a stomach problem yesterday, so it was good to see the whole team around him today for most of the stage and everyone tried to get him in the best position for the final ascent. We had a bit of a crosswind for the first 3km of the 16km climb to the summit finish, so I sat in front of Rafal again to try and keep him sheltered and save his energy.
As the climb got steeper, I dropped back onto his wheel and tried to stay there just in case he punctured and needed a wheel or my bike.
When the pace increased halfway up, I drifted down two or three guys in the group. I wanted to get right back up behind Rafal, just in case, but as I was already on the limit, I knew the effort it would take would send me into the red and I'd be dropped straight away.
In the end, it was an attack by Pierre Rolland of Europcar that saw me go out the back door 5km from the finish.
I hadn't much left at that stage, but kept a good enough pace to the top just in case something happened Rafal.
There was no point in me going flat out, though, only to completely wreck myself for when he really needed me in the last couple of stages.
Rafal was able to stay with the Frenchman and even managed to drop Cadel Evans on the climb. He is still fifth overall, but is now tied on time with Fabio Aru of Astana in fourth and is just two seconds off Rolland's third place.
Tomorrow we have a mountain time trial that will probably shake up the overall standings a bit. I think Rafal can do really well and, hopefully, will move onto the podium.
He has ridden a pretty smart Giro so far. He's never played superman, never panicked, used the team well and followed the right moves.
Rafal has tried to maximise his energy saving for when it was needed most and even though I didn't get much personal satisfaction on this Giro, I'm really enjoying riding for him.
He's a nice guy and always thanks everybody on the team for helping after each stage, and we have a very good relationship, which is great.
I have to say a big congratulations to Philip Deignan today. He put in a great ride today to get third on a very tough mountain stage and it's really great to see him back doing what he does best.
GIRO D'ITALIA, LIVE, EUROSPORT, 1.30pm