Thursday 21 September 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'It feels like you're pedalling inside one big mobile oven'

Monday, August 30 Stage 3: Marbella to Malaga, 157km

The peloton makes its way through the packed streets of Seville during yesterday's third stage of the Tour of Spain. Photo: Reuters
The peloton makes its way through the packed streets of Seville during yesterday's third stage of the Tour of Spain. Photo: Reuters

Nicolas Roche

Last Night my Ag2r La Mondiale team stayed in one of those 'mega hotels' in the centre of Marbella. Our hotel had over 500 bedrooms and it felt pretty weird to be standing in the foyer sweating in our cycling gear as people were walking around the place in swimming togs and flip flops.

It's frustrating to see everybody on holidays, looking forward to the sun, when you're silently hoping it might rain or at least cool down a bit.

I've already said in my Tour diary that I never complain about the heat and that in fact I love riding in warm weather but this Vuelta has been unbelievably hot. We are racing in 45-48 degree Celsius heat and riding in the peloton feels like you're pedalling inside one big mobile oven.

As is usually the case on a day when you get a hunger flat, I was starving after yesterday's stage and had a massive bowl of pasta for dinner. I was pretty tired after the stage too and after a chat with my girlfriend Chiara on the phone and a bit of a read, I was in bed by 10.30. Last night I had a room with a pool view, which meant that I had to put in ear plugs to drown out the sound of the guy playing the piano outside for the holidaymakers.

overshot

Today's start was really fast. We had a climb after nine kilometres today and the race was really active early on, with groups trying to go clear from the gun. On one of the early descents, my team-mate Hubert Dupont and seven or eight other guys overshot a corner and went straight into the ditch at about 70kph. I'm not sure how it happened, but I think somebody just went too quick around the corner and their front wheel slipped.

The heat is also making the descents pretty dangerous with the tar melting on the road, so that could have been the cause, I don't know, but Hubert is pretty cut up on his legs, back, hip, everywhere. He'll have a sleepless night tonight.

I was a few riders behind the crash but got held up behind it. There was no panic though, as I was in a fairly big group that had lost contact with the front of the bunch. By the time we rejoined the front of the peloton, a group of seven had gone clear, including Biel Kadri from our team.

Biel had a great ride today. Even after being caught and dropped at the top of the first category Puerto del Leon, with 30km to go, Biel fought hard to get back into the peloton on the descent and even came up to me with a fresh bottle afterwards.

Even though I was riding near the front of the peloton on the mountain and had no trouble staying there, I was still suffering from the heat again today and I drank three bottles in the final 15km thanks to Biel, Guillaume Bonnafond and Ludovic Turpin.

I made sure to stay near the front on the final descent, which was really quick. Then we hit the last two-kilometre climb to the finish, which was really steep and hard. It was way harder than it looked on the race manual. I had looked at the graphic this morning and it looked like the climb started two kilometres from the finish and flattened out with 500m to go but once we went around the corner with two kilometres to go, there was no flat. We just kept climbing to the line and it was harder than I expected.

We sprinted into the first corner, everybody vying for the best position. Guillaume, Ludovic and Biel came up to me on the climb and kept the wind off me for as long as they could, which was a great help.

From about a kilometre and a half out, I was at, or very near to, my limit. I knew this type of finish would suit the likes of Philippe Gilbert and Joaquin Rodriguez -- two punchy little climbers that can sprint well on a short, sharp, hill like today's.

When Gilbert went on the corner, I was on his wheel, marking him, but he was way too quick for me. There was nothing I could do. Whereas Gilbert had a little bit extra in the tank, I was already at full gas and just kept going as hard as I could until the finish line. I think I passed two guys on the way up and another passed me before the line and I ended up sixth on the stage.

I'm a bit sick of sixth places now. At least if you get fifth, you get a few UCI points and a top-five placing. Sixth, though, is just classed as 'another top 10'. I've had enough of those this year, but it was important for the team that I got some sort of result to keep everybody's morale up.

In general, I'm a bit happier with today though. Although I haven't vomited in a couple of days now, I still have a stomach ache and it's amazing how anytime the pace drops a bit and you have time to think, the pain comes back.

When the speed picks up again, you don't have time to worry about your sore belly or your sore feet or how hot you are, you just concentrate on holding onto the wheel in front of you and not losing any time.

After yesterday, I was feeling down and didn't know what to expect going into today, but now I'm a bit happier. I've moved up to 24th overall, 55 seconds behind new leader Gilbert.

For Tuesday though, the weather forecast says it's going to be even warmer and the route map says it's going to be even harder. Never a good combination.

Irish Independent

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