Saturday 22 July 2017

Nicolas Roche: ‘Chubby chops will like his birthday cake’

Friday September 3, Stage 7: Murcia to Orihuela 187km

THIS morning before the stage, I got given out to by my team manager for letting Rinaldo Nocentini have a go in the previous day’s sprint finish.

Rinaldo and I had a chat in the final kilometres and decided we would both have a go in the sprint and would look after ourselves for the gallop.

As team leader, I had given out to Guillaume Bonnafond after the stage for being in the final selection coming into the finish and not helping me in the sprint. This morning my boss gave out to me for letting Rinaldo ride his own sprint.

He pointed out that as team leader, I should have made Rinaldo lead me out and maybe got a higher placing than 10th on the stage. His point was that I might have made the top five and earned valuable UCI points for the team.

It shows how things have come full circle from last year’s Tour de France, where even tough I was faster than our official sprinter at the time, I was told not to sprint as I would need my energy to help the others later in the race. Now that I’m leader, though, I’m still being given out to. It’s all amicable, however, and I’m still making mistakes and learning from them every day.

Today had a touch of deja vu about it as the stage consisted of about five different loops of varying lengths, and as the loops were criss-crossing each other several times, you were constantly riding past places that you’d been in maybe a half hour previous, but this time in the opposite direction. The stage felt like one huge criterium and it was a very long day in the saddle.

The stage started off reasonably easy and five riders went away after just two kilometres. The sprinters’ teams let them get a nice, juicy, lead of almost 10 minutes before deciding to reel them in, which meant that what started out as a nice calm day ended up fairly stressful in the final hour and a half or so.

There was plenty of wind today as the roads were wide open and unsheltered for most of the stage. The final 80km were pretty hectic as the crosswinds combined with the frantic last-minute pursuit of the breakaways to string the peloton out into one long line. We rode pretty hard up the only third category climb of the day, with the wind opening a few gaps at the back of the bunch, but it still took us until five kilometres from the line to catch the five breakaway riders.

I stayed a bit further back in the sprint this time. I was pretty near the front until about a kilometre to go, but the finish was very narrow and twisty and there was a lot of pushing and shoving going on in the bunch. I’m was expecting a crash on one of the narrow chicanes in the sprint, but couldn’t afford to drift back too far in case there was a split in the bunch, so as we went under the ‘one kilometre to go’ banner, I drifted back and finished 51st on the stage.

As it happened there was a split in the peloton in the final kilometres and Xavier Tondo was caught in the second part. Although he only finished a handful of seconds behind me on the road, the time is taken from the first rider on the stage to the first rider in the split, which means the more the peloton is strung out the bigger the gap to the split. Tondo lost 18 seconds to stage winner Petacchi and I moved up to 10th overall. I said in yesterday’s diary that, although I was happy enough with 11th, I’d prefer to be in the top 10 overall because the TV only shows the top 10 after the stage.

Maybe today I should say that I’d like to win the stage tomorrow. Saturday is going to be savage. We have one third category climb before three second category mountains on the 190km day. Then we finish with a really, really steep first category climb of the Alto Xorret de Cati at the end of the stage.

Some of the riders are putting a 36 inside chainring on for the 12pc gradient on the four-kilometre climb. I’m going to stick with a 39 and use a 28-tooth rear sprocket. Hopefully, that will get me up it with the leaders.

We have a short descent off the mountain and then finish on another short steep ramp. I think the overall classification will change. From what I’ve seen so far, Russian Denis Menchov looks like the favourite for this Vuelta. He has been riding at the front all week and has his full Rabobank team around him, so you know he is in good form. He also has the experience of winning the race twice before.

I think the other guys like Franck Schleck, Igr Anton and Joaquin Rodriguez will have to get rid of him on the harder climbs, because they know he will take a lot of time out of them in the individual time trial later in the race. I don't know if Philippe Gilbert will still be in the red jersey of race leader after the stage, but he has surprised me so far.

Having been on my own up until now, tonight I’m rooming with Ludovic Turpin for the first time. Ludovic is a 35- year-old French rider, is in his 11th year as a pro and has ridden with Ag2r La Mondiale in its various guises for all of his career.

I haven’t raced with him much this year, but I know he is a bit of a wine connoisseur and can tell you where every wine is made and what the best year is for each one. I don’t know what his routine is like after the stage, but we are always up early for breakfast so we should be grand.

Today is Biel Kadri’s birthday. He is 24. We have been slagging him all week because even though he’s only just 10 stone weight – in the pre-Vuelta tests, he had the highest body fat percentage of the team, eight pc. We will have a birthday cake and a glass of wine for him tonight to make up for it though. Old chubby chops will like that.

VueltaaEspana, Live,Eurosport,2.45

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