Nicolas Roche: ‘I don’t think Froomey’s time loss is any cause for alarm’
Friday, August 28, Stage 7: Jodar to Alto de Capileira (191km)
Roadworks on the way to the start in Jodar this morning saw us leave pretty early for our first foray into the big mountains.
Once again a long neutralised section was added to the already lengthy 191km stage, although my team-mate Vasil Kiryienka was probably glad of the extra 10km when a touch of wheels saw him hit the deck before the stage proper began.
The fact that we were only rolling though along meant Kiry had plenty of time to grab a new bike and make his way back into the peloton before the action unfolded.
Although today seemed more conducive to a breakaway group staying clear to the finish than any of the previous stages, this morning’s start wasn’t as aggressive as some of the other days.
Five riders jumped clear after about 15km and were allowed an eight-minute lead before Orica Green Edge took up the chase at the head of the peloton for their Colombian race leader Esteban Chaves.
Orica simply set a steady tempo however and when the lead quintet managed to slowly open a maximum advantage of 14 minutes, some of the Astana riders came up and asked our team leader Chris Froome if we were going to ride after them.
But we had no reason to chase the breakaway down today and were happy as we were, sitting just behind Orica GreenEdge in the line.
Upon hearing this, with around 60km to go and the gap still at 10 minutes, Astana put one man on the front, while my Sky team-mates and I sat behind him.
In fairness, that one rider did a really good job and cut three minutes off the break on his own before he blew up about 15km later.
When he did, we were next in line but with no desire to chase, we simply eased up and the Movistar squad of Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde took up the chase.
More teams began to appear near the front as we headed towards the day’s mountain-top finish with Kiry, Geraint Thomas and Salvatore Puccio positioning the rest of us into the foot of the first-category Alto de Capileira.
Although I’ve been riding well on the shorter climbs that we’ve encountered so far, today’s 20km ascent to the finish was a different kettle of fish altogether.
I haven’t raced up such a long mountain since the Tour de France, so today there was no real plan of attack for me.
I knew it was important not to get overexcited and possibly blow up and lose time by the top, so Froomey, Mikel Nieve and I simply positioned ourselves eight or nine riders from the front of the group, just close enough to keep an eye on what was going on, as Movistar set a good tempo on the incline.
The climb itself was split into two sections, with a steep opening 6km levelling out for 4km before kicking back up again on the eight switchbacks to the top.
With the five leaders still hovering a couple of minutes up the road, I thought there might be a few early attacks from some of the overall contenders but Movistar set such a quick tempo that none came until the last 2km.
When they did come, it was my cousin Dan Martin who was the first one to jump away.
Having begun the stage one place ahead me in fourth place overall though, Dan wasn’t given much leeway.
He was reeled in pretty quickly before the resulting stall saw Giro d’Italia runner-up Fabio Aru of Astana attack with just over a kilometre remaining.
As Aru caught two of the breakaway group in the final few hundred metres, Mikel had a few goes to get across to him closed down.
Aru eventually got to within 29 seconds of the last two riders out front but couldn’t stop Dutchman Bert Jan Lindeman taking a fine stage win for Lotto Jumbo. A late move by former Tour de France King of the Mountains Rafal Majka of Tinkoff-Saxo split our group in the last 600 metres or so but I managed to hang onto the back and crossed the line one place ahead of Dan for tenth on the stage for the second day in a row while Mikel finished just off
the wheels and was unlucky to take a time split of nine seconds.
With both race leader Chaves and second-placed Tom Dumoulin also finishing in our group today, Dan and I remain in third and fourth place respectively ahead of tomorrow’s flatter stage.
While Aru showed his hand for the first time today, Chaves is still looking pretty comfortable in the red jersey and it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere soon.
Much was made of Froomey losing just over 30 seconds to Aru today, but honestly I don’t think there is any cause for alarm at all.
There’s still a very long way to go in this Vuelta and having won the Tour de France twice and finished second here before, Chris is an expert at pacing himself properly in a three-week race.
As for me, I was completely wrecked when I crossed the line today and the continuation of the gradient afterwards might have seen me keel over only for a spectator who ran over and grabbed me, pushing me up the next few metres until I got my breath back.
Once I recovered, I soft-pedalled the extra kilometre or so to the team car where I got changed into clean gear and did a few TV interviews before descending halfway back down the climb with Salvatore.
With the team buses parked 25km away, we then hopped into the team cars for the trip to the bus, where we will hopefully get a cool shower and put our feet up.
Live, Eurosport/TG4, 3.0pm