Tuesday 26 September 2017

Vuelta a Espana Diary: With six days left we have lost two riders in one fell swoop

Monday, September 4 - Rest Day: La Rioja

'In this final week, I’ll have to chase a stage win but with a long time trial tomorrow and a sprint stage on Sunday, I don’t have too many options' - Nicolas Roche
'In this final week, I’ll have to chase a stage win but with a long time trial tomorrow and a sprint stage on Sunday, I don’t have too many options' - Nicolas Roche

Nicolas Roche

After a tough mountain stage yesterday, we had a long transfer ahead of today's second rest day.

With the team buses already on their eight-hour drive to our next hotel, we showered and changed in the Olympic Centre in Sierra Nevada, where our young rider Kilian Frankiny's hip was starting to swell up after an earlier crash.

Although he had finished the stage, Kilian had a lot of trouble walking and the staff had to carry him on to one of the 52-seater coaches waiting outside for the drive back down the mountain to the airport, where we faced a one-and-a-half hour flight to Logrono.

The police escort in front of the coaches didn't make the other traffic get out of the way so it took us an hour and 45 minutes just to get off the finishing climb.

My ticket told me that the flights chartered by the race organisation were due to leave at 8.15, but it was 9.30 before we even reached the airport, where we were directed towards one of two planes and I plonked on to the seat beside our other young rider Loic Vliegen and fell asleep.

Upon disembarking the plane we had another 50-minute coach ride before finally arriving at our hotel at 11.15 last night.

After a very late dinner, I finally found our bedroom, unpacked our suitcases and went to bed at around 12.45.

With no racing today, we had the luxury of a 9.30 breakfast, where I was greeted with a pale Rohan Dennis at the table.

"Nico, stay away from me," he spluttered. "Sit on the far side of the table. I'm sick."

A really good time triallist, Rohan was a contender for tomorrow's individual race against the clock so his respiratory infection couldn't have come at a worse time.

I thought he might be OK after a day in bed but by the time we were ready to go out training after breakfast, he was already packed and ready to go home and rest ahead of his season goal, the world time trial championships.

With Rohan gone home, a fatigued Loic opting to take a day off to recover from his first two weeks in a Grand Tour, and Kilian gone to hospital for an x-ray on his hip, the rest of us left around 11 for an hour-and-a-half spin on our time trial bikes.

We stopped in a lovely little village about 30km away, where we had some Spanish ham and a glass of coke in the sun.

The place was beautiful and for a while we sat there envying those around us sitting in the sun with their tapas and glasses of wine.

We arrived back to the hotel to news that Kilian's x-ray showed he has two fractures in his femur, which not only means his Vuelta is over but his season has been cut short too.

Nearing the end of his first Grand Tour, the poor kid was so disappointed to have to go home that I couldn't help feeling sorry for him.

He's done really well the past two weeks and although he's suffered a bit in the last few days like everybody else, you could see that he was enjoying every moment and he deserved to finish in Madrid on Sunday.

With six days left on this Vuelta, we have now lost two riders in one fell swoop.

A bad day yesterday means that I have dropped to 17th overall and with a 16-minute gap to Wout Poels seven places ahead of me, my aim of a top 10 looks to be gone.

In this final week, I'll have to chase a stage win but with a long time trial tomorrow and a sprint stage on Sunday, I don't have too many options.

I will have to try every day to get into the breakaway now.

Vuelta a Espana, Live, Eurosport 2, 3.0

Irish Independent

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