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Sunday 11 December 2016

Nicolas Roche: 'I went ballistic at our bus driver's remark'

Saturday, september 3 -- Stage 14: Astorga to Lagos de Somieda (175.8km)Sunday, september 4 -- Stage 15: Aviles to Angliru (142km)

Published 05/09/2011 | 18:00

The three climbs on today's stage all came within the final 70km, so the last couple of hours racing were pretty tough. My team-mates Guillaume Bonnafond and Lloyd Mondory were part of a 17-man breakaway group that went clear soon after the start and by the bottom of the first mountain had opened a gap of over eight minutes.

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With the Sky and Katusha teams setting the pace in the peloton on the climb though, we'd taken three minutes back by the top, before the break literally fell apart on the descent when both Sep Vanmarcke and Karsten Kroon went over the edge and fell five metres into a ravine, forcing Kroon to abandon with his injuries.

At the bottom of the descent, with 44km and two more climbs to go, the remnants of the break were three minutes up as we started the first-category Puerto de San Lorenzo, where Katusha's Daniel Moreno attacked and crested the summit in a small group. They caught most of the break, apart from Rein Taaramae of Cofidis and Geox climber David de la Fuente, on the descent and had a minute at the foot of the final mountain.

Freshly tarred for the Vuelta, the smooth surface here encouraged the chase and with 6km to go, we had caught Moreno's group. But as Taaramae and De la Fuente stayed out of sight up the road, the Spaniard dug his heels in and went again with 5km to go, this time bringing Geox climber Juan Jose Cobo with him. As Cobo was a threat to race leader Bradley Wiggins, he and Sky team-mate Chris Froome had to react and the pace increased again.

I hung on for as long as I could, but was gone with 4km to go. With a really hard finish coming the next day, I didn't want to go too much into the red and kept riding at my own pace. Slowly but surely, I caught and passed overall contenders Nibali, Kessiakoff, Rodriguez and a few others to finish 22nd on the stage, a minute and 17 seconds behind the Wiggins group.

Although I've dropped one place to 15th overall, I'm not too disappointed as I know Angliru tomorrow can make or break my Vuelta.

One of the most feared climbs in cycling, Angliru ranks up there with Alpe d'Huez in France and Monte Zoncolan in Italy. The road rises 1,575m skywards in 12.5km and while it begins steadily enough, at around 7pc at the bottom, it's the top half that gives Angliru its notoriety. Some 6.5km into the mountain, the gradient rises to a back breaking 24pc, as steep as St Patrick's Hill in Cork, but a whole lot longer.

The steepest part comes with 2km to go, where if it's wet it's impossible to get traction with your rear wheel and if it's dry, your front wheel will rise off the road if you pull too hard on the bars while sitting down. In 2002, British pro David Millar got off his bike just one metre short of the finish line, took off his race numbers and handed them to the commissaires. He'd had enough and wanted out of the Vuelta.

Angliru was where the Vuelta could be won and lost for the likes of race leader Wiggins and his nearest rivals today, but for me it was where I could either move into the top 10 or drop out of the top 15 altogether.

Gearing on a racing bike is counted by the number of teeth on the chainring and the number of teeth on the rear wheel sprocket. On most racing bikes, you have a 53-tooth front outer chainring and a 39-tooth inside chainring. At the back, the sprockets range from 11 teeth for the flat to maybe 23 for the hills, so the easiest gear you would have on a normal road bike is around 39x23 and even then, you would only use it on a pretty steep climb.

Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali started today with an absolute granny gear of 34x29, fourth-placed Fredrik Kessiakoff had a 34x28 on while climbers Jakob Fuglslang and Bauke Mollema used a 36x28. Me? I rode up Angliru on a 34x28, but I still lost six minutes and 19 seconds to the stage winner, Juan Jose Cobo today.

I had ridden across the top of the penultimate climb in about 20th place, but Nibali's Liquigas team hit the front on the 8km descent and split the group kamikaze-style on the way down. I had to ride around the guy in front of me and chase them for 5km or so and only just made it to the back wheel of the group at the bottom. But when they kicked out of two corners in a row just before the foot of Angliru, my legs gave up and I was dropped. I'd been hoping to do a good ride on Angliru. I thought it might even save my season if I could finish in the top 15 on the stage and move up the GC, but now here I was on my own and it hadn't even started yet.

I kept my rhythm until about 4km to go where I started to slow down again. I completely blew on the hardest section, 2km from the top, and guys started to claw their way past me. There were a lot of cars in the way and some were conking out on the slopes. Kevin Seeldrayers of Quickstep edged past, but I was really hurting and couldn't stay with the Belgian. I reckon I'd have been better off walking as I tried to weave my way between the cars and the fans.

I am now 20th overall, nine minutes and 16 seconds behind new leader Cobo. I'm out of the hunt for the general classification and will have to aim for a stage win in the days that are left. After the stage, we were descending to the team bus in the cars when our bus driver 'Bonbon' came over the radios to tell us that he had cooked pasta for us and it was ready. As we have a rest day tomorrow, one of the guys in the other team car replied. "I thought we were getting a slice of pizza today as a treat?" "Not with your sh***y results," answered Bonbon. "You don't deserve a pizza!"

Already frustrated at losing any hope of a good overall position in this Vuelta, I went ballistic at Bonbon's remark. I grabbed the radio mike from the front of our car and told him to "shut the f**k up," that we'd all had a hard day and we deserved a bit of respect from our bus driver at least. When we got to the bus, Bonbon acted as if nothing had happened so I didn't push it.

Two hours after the stage, I'm back in the team car. We have another 170km transfer to our hotel tonight and the sat nav is saying we won't be there until 10.30. Roll on the rest day!

Irish Independent

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