Friday 30 September 2016

'Two different wins on the same day made it a very Good Friday for us'

Nicolas Roche

Published 26/03/2016 | 02:30

Sky’s Dutch rider Wouter Poels celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win Stage 5 of the Volta a Catalunya, one of two big wins for the team yesterday. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images
Sky’s Dutch rider Wouter Poels celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win Stage 5 of the Volta a Catalunya, one of two big wins for the team yesterday. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images

Friday March 24, Stage 5: Rialp to Valls (187.2km) With nothing left in the tank midway through yesterday's stage, Ian Boswell was forced to abandon the race and wasn't on the team bus at the finish.

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By the time I got back to the hotel, my young American roommate was fast asleep in bed, so I left my suitcase into the room and went down to our food room where I stuck a bit of ginger and a few strawberries into a blender with some hot tea and honey.

It might sound like a strange combination but my masseur Jacek loves it as well so I always have to make two cups.

As I was making my tea, the lights began to flicker in the hotel and went out. I thought I'd caused the blackout but it turned out that it was my Spanish team-mate Mikel Nieve. The bedside lights in Mikel's room were pretty old school and were attached to the wall directly over his bed.

When Mikel pushed the bed over a couple of inches to give himself more room for his suitcase, it hit the light and a wire came loose inside, causing a short and blowing something in the hotel fuse board.

They got the power back on again pretty quickly, only for Mikel to blow it again by turning his light on. Having already lost Boz during the stage, we didn't want to lose another rider to a possible electrocution that night so Mikel was moved to another room and all was well in the hotel again.

Later on, though, we did lose another rider as Geraint Thomas opted to pull out of this race in order to be at his best for Tour of Flanders on Sunday week.

Having won Paris-Nice a couple of weeks ago and then ridden the 300km long Milan-San-Remo the day before this race, fatigue saw 'G' slip down the overall classification here but now he will have plenty of time to recover ahead of his favourite cobbled classic.

Two riders down today, we thought we'd change things up a little bit on the rolling stage and planned to try and get somebody into the early breakaway.

As the day began with a flat opening 60km before hitting the second-category climb of Port d'Ager, we knew it would be hard to get away early on and took a gamble by not following any moves until we were about 25km in.

Relentless

Here, I started moving up and began to jump up the road after a few groups. With the average speed for the first hour standing at 50kph, though, it was proving really difficult for anything to stick and by the time we hit the bottom of the climb 10km later I was paying for my efforts.

An intermediate sprint a few kilometres into the ascent saw the overall contenders fight it out, with my cousin Dan Martin taking the maximum three seconds time bonus on and moving himself to within 21 seconds of Nairo Quintana's race lead.

The pace was relentless on the climb, with the peloton splitting in half on the way up. After a break-neck 20km descent we had covered the first 100km of the stage in the just two hours and were way ahead of even the earliest schedule.

With no big sprint trains left in the race to bring them back, everybody knew there was a great chance that the breakaway could stay clear to the finish, so the attacks kept coming and we flew through the feed zone with no time to snatch our feed bags from the team carers at the roadside.

Eighteen riders went clear soon after but with nobody in it we knew we had to react quickly, so I hit the front and sprinted flat out for about a minute before Chris Froome and Vasil Kiryienka came by me and shut the move down.

I continued on riding as a few guys jumped clear but when my Dutch team-mate Wout Poels got across to them I eased up a little bit to let them open a gap. With seven riders now pulling clear, the peloton eventually gave in and let them go. As soon as the pace slowed, some riders took the opportunity to stop for a much-needed pee while others drifted back to their team cars to collect the food bags they had missed at the feed zone.

Behind the peloton, a large group of riders who had been dropped on the first climb were scurrying to regain contact about a minute back. The Movistar team of race leader Quintana had five riders in this group, so they decided to delay their chase of the escapees until the five had regained contact with the peloton, which was great for us as Wout's group opened a lead of four minutes and he now had a real chance of winning the stage.

We also knew that if Wout's group got caught we had Ben Swift with us for the sprint, so we were in the perfect scenario of not having to do anything for the rest of the stage. The GreenEdge and Katusha teams set the tempo over the penultimate climb, a ten-kilometre-long uncategorised ascent and I drifted back on the last climb of Alt de la Lilla and listened intently for news of Wout's progress up ahead in my earpiece.

He had attacked the escape group with about 15km to go and gone over the top five kilometres later with just a 14-second lead.

A lack of collaboration behind him though saw him open that gap to half a minute on the descent and I could hear our directeur sportif Brett Lancaster whooping in my earpiece as Wout held on to win the stage by 11 seconds.

As we waited for our victor to arrive onto the bus after the post-stage ceremony, we watched the last 15km of Belgian one-day race E3 Harelbeke live, and were glued to the screen as our Polish team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski fought it out with world champion Peter Sagan.

Michal took the sprint to give us two wins in the same day so it's been a very good Friday for us.

Volta a Catalunya,

Live, Eurosport 1, 2.40

Irish Independent

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