Friday 22 September 2017

'I've had a few run-ins with Vorganov before and we got a bit aggressive with each other'

Nicolas Roche

As today was the last chance for a breakaway to succeed in this Vuelta, there was a lot of attacking very early on. But with four mountains, including two first-category ascents on the way to Vitoria, I employed the same tactic as I had earlier in the week and waited until the first climb to follow any moves.

After about 25km of fighting for position at 60kph, I noticed a lot of guys who were hovering either just ahead of me or just behind me in the overall standings were trying to go clear, so I jumped in one or two groups and eventually got into a 26-man move that pulled away on a drag after 27km.

Although there were a lot of really strong riders in the group, I was the highest-placed rider on GC in the break, at 16th overall. Even though I had begun the day over 10 minutes behind race leader Juan Jose Cobo of Geox, one or two of the guys in the move started complaining that my presence in the break would lead to them being recaptured before the end of the stage.

overtake

The Belgian Omega Pharma Lotto team had a couple of riders, Jan Bakelants and Jurgen van de Walle, in the break and both of them knew that if we gained more than five minutes, I would overtake eighth-placed Jurgen van den Broeck, their team leader, in the overall standings.

"Nico, are you going to sit up?" Bakelants asked as we began to open a gap.

I knew Robert Kiserlovski, who was only two places behind me on GC, was also in the move and that if I went back to the bunch he would overtake me in the overall standings. "No," I answered, "no way I'm sitting up."

Bakelants just shrugged and carried on riding but Eduard Vorganov of Katusha wasn't so happy and kept whinging at me to stop, instead of just riding at the front with his two Katusha team-mates. But there were plenty of guys in the break who just wanted to get on with it and didn't care if I was there or not so we kept riding hard and began to open a decent lead on the peloton.

We had just over four minutes, midway through the stage, before Bakelants and Van de Walle's Omega Pharma Lotto team began to chase behind. They closed the gap to three minutes, which was all they needed to do. Once it stayed under five minutes, they were happy enough.

We hovered around the three-minute mark for a couple of hours before suddenly, just before the final mountain of the day, the first category Puerto de Urkiola with 50km to go, the gap fell to two minutes. For some reason, which I still don't fully understand, the Radioshack team had gone to the front and begun to chase us. They had nobody in the top 20 overall beginning the stage so all I can think of was they were just being punished by their team manager for missing the break.

Having settled into a solid rhythm in the break, we all started riding full gas again upon hearing the time gap. I rode pretty hard on the final mountain and our front group began to fall apart, leaving just six of us together by the top. There were two reasons for my increased pace. The first was the hope that maybe the peloton would break apart on the climb and attack each other. If they got disorganised at the top, we could possibly get another minute and stay clear to the line. If not, I just wanted to get over the last climb before we got caught. I didn't want the peloton to catch us halfway up and then struggle to stay with them until the top.

When the gap fell to just under a minute, Vorganov started bitching again. "Bravo Roche," he drawled at me. I told him it was nothing to do with me, that Radioshack were chasing us, even though they had nothing to gain by bringing us back. I've had a few run-ins with Vorganov before and we got a bit aggressive with each other for a few minutes before the peloton closed in on us with about 30km left.

The stage ended in a mass bunch gallop to the line. I wanted to give it a go in the sprint but had left a lot of energy in the escape. I also had no team-mates around me in the finale and when I saw there was a lot of pushing and shoving in the sprint, I just let them at it, crossing the line in the middle of the bunch.

After 150km in the break today, I have nothing to show for it apart from sore legs but I said I wanted to attack and have been trying for the past four days. I didn't gain any time today but didn't lose any either so, with one day to go, I'm still 16th overall.

We have a mammoth 380km transfer to our hotel on the team bus after the stage so we all decided to put €20 in a kitty this morning and sent the soigneur to the shops for some paella, Spanish ham, some tapas and a few beers to have on the way. Luxury.

Today's stage actually started a quarter of an hour late, so the neutralised section was ridden at 50kph behind the official cars. When we arrived in Madrid we had 11 laps of a 5km circuit this year, instead of the usual five or six and the speed stayed high to the finish. I wasn't planning to do anything today though and was just happy to stay out of trouble, cross the line in the middle of the bunch and get this race done and dusted.

I had a visit from a couple of Irish fans last night. They have been reading my diary since the start and told me that I was being a bit too harsh on myself and that I'd had a pretty good Vuelta.

There's probably a bit of truth in it. I had four top 10s, two top fives on stages and 16th overall but I wanted to do better. My biggest disappointment was the Angliru stage where I lost six minutes. I had been struggling on the long 25km power climbs but was hoping to do well on the ultra-steep Angliru. Instead, I found myself out the back before it even started and rode most of the mountain on my own. I got into a couple of breakaways. One of them stayed away until the end and I got fifth. Even then I was disappointed not to have won the stage.

Looking back, I gave it all I had. I rode to my maximum and while it might not be the best performance of my career, I fought every day. I have a week and a half back in Varese now before heading to Copenhagen alongside my cousin Dan Martin, who finished 13th overall in this Vuelta, national champion Matt Brammeier and David McCann as part of the Irish team for the World Road Race Championships.

Four days after Denmark, I head to China and the inaugural Tour of Beijing and end my season with the Tour of Lombardy classic in Italy. After that, I will be home to promote my new book 'Inside The Peloton: My life as a professional cyclist' which, as they say, will be available in all good book shops from September 29.

Irish Independent

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