Nicolas Roche: 'I haven't wanted to kill anybody for a change'
Monday, September 6, Rest Day - Tarragona
After Sunday's stage we had a 400km transfer and didn't arrive at our hotel until 10.30 that night.
Once again we had no air conditioning on in the team car, for fear of catching a cold, so we spent the whole time dripping in sweat and needed another shower when we eventually got to our rooms.
To pass the time on the trip, myself and team manager Julian Jordie decided to wind up the other 'directeur sportif' Didier Jannel. Didier is in his first year as manager of the team and has only directed a few races so far. The Vuelta is his first Grand Tour.
On the Vuelta, as in all pro races, each team has two cars on the race. One drives behind the peloton all day and the other goes up the road and looks after our riders if they make it into the breakaway of the day. Didier's job has been to drive behind the breakaway groups and he has been pretty busy as Ag2r have had a rider in the break on most days. On Sunday, Didier had driven behind Biel Kadri, who was part of a 14-man break and had finished fifth on the stage.
On the way to the hotel, Julien took a phone call and when he finished speaking, he winked at me and put on a depressed voice. Julien told Didier that Biel had been disqualified after the stage. Julien told him that the race commissaires (referees) had penalised Biel a minute and a half and he had been fined 300 Swiss francs, which is the international currency of cycling.
Didier took the bait immediately and got angrier and angrier as he had been there right behind him all day, and demanded to know why Biel was penalised. Julien told him that the race referees said that Didier had spent too much time talking to Biel during the stage, and that he had given him shelter from the wind for too long.
As Didier grew more and more apoplectic, Julien added that Biel had received a lot of 'sticky bottles' during the stage and it was lucky that both he and Didier weren't thrown off the race.
A 'sticky bottle' is the term used for a bottle that is held onto for a few seconds too long as it is handed to a rider from a team car. A tired rider will sometimes try to get a few metres of a tow as neither he nor the driver lets go of the bottle for a few seconds.
There is no real benefit in doing this, though, because if you go back for bottles, you usually have to take five or six on board and then have to ride back up to the bunch with them anyway and as long as the rider doesn't hang on for more than three or four seconds, the commissaires usually turn a blind eye.
Didier was outraged. He hadn't given Biel any sticky bottles, or spent too long talking to him during the stage. He started to panic and wanted to ring the race organisation and appeal the decision. He probably would have too, if we hadn't told him we were joking.
My girlfriend Chiara arrived at the hotel at around the same time. She was working in Varese until noon, then caught a train to the airport, flew to Barcelona and took another train to Tarragona.
All so that she could spend the rest day with me. We didn't sit down to dinner until 10.30 and I bought another bottle of wine for the guys so they could relax a little bit after a hard 10 days.
Although we had no stage today, I went training for two hours this morning at 10.0. Even though we had a rest day today, it's important to remind your body that the race isn't over yet, so everybody goes out training for a couple of hours.
After training, most of the guys took an ice bath on the team bus, but I didn't bother. I used them on the Tour, but I haven't taken one at all on the Vuelta. Even though it's been roasting hot all week, you have to be in a certain frame of mind to submerge yourself in a bath of ice, and I haven't been in the humour.
To get away from the feeling of being on a race, myself and Chiara didn't want to have lunch in the team hotel. But the distance walked was the bare minimum, from the front door of the hotel to the café across the road.
Sometimes I wonder why the wives or girlfriends come to the rest days at all because all we do is sit around watching TV or chatting.
Maybe if I was winding down the season, or not taking the race too serious then we could go shopping or to the cinema or something but as I am in a good position on GC and still have ambitions in the race, I can't even go for a walk around the town because I am saving my legs for the next day. We ordered cannelloni but the waitress warned us that it wouldn't be as good as it is in Italy. She was right, but it wasn't too bad.
This afternoon, I invested in an SRM power metre. Until now, I've been basing my training efforts on my heart rate monitor, my head and my legs. But next year, I want to be a bit more scientific.
A heart monitor measures the effect of any effort you make on your body, while a power metre measures the actual effort you make, recording the amount of watts you produce by measuring the torque applied to the cranks at any given time.
I think I need a bit more training data now and with the SRM cranks I can download all my training information, record my power output and see when and where I am improving or need to improve. I will be able to go back to a period of good form and analyse my data from then and see how far off I am.
I won't put the unit on my bike until after the Vuelta, though, because I have to change the cranks to do that, and I'm not going to take the chance of maybe messing up my Vuelta by changing something midway through.
After 10 days of the Vuelta, the morale in my Ag2r La Mondiale team is good. We've had five top 10s so far and I'm lying eighth overall. The aim of the team going into the Vuelta was to score points on the stages and for me to get a top 15 overall. We've been competitive. We haven't missed a break. The guys are working really well for me and so far, I haven't wanted to kill anybody, for a change.
At the moment, I'm eighth overall, a minute and 19 seconds behind race leader Igor Anton. I'm just four seconds off sixth place but there are still a lot of hard mountain stages to come.
On Tuesday we have a first-category climb 30km from the finish and I think the stage will suit a breakaway group. Then on Wednesday we have the climb to the finish at the ski station in Andorra, which will be tough.
Vuelta a Espana, Live, Eurosport, 3.0