Saturday 29 April 2017

Nicolas Roche: ‘My form’s causing sleepless nights’

Monday, September 5 Rest Day -- Palencia

Today was spent much like any other rest day on a Grand Tour -- doing as little as possible. One of our soigneurs, 'Titi', told us last week that he used to work in his family pizzeria when he was a kid. In the hope of conning him into making us one, we've all been slagging Titi ever since, saying we didn't believe him and that he was only making it up.

Today, the slagging finally paid off. As we sat down to lunch after a two-hour training spin this morning, Titi disappeared only to arrive at the table after our starters with a baby pizza for each of us, which was nice.

I haven't been sleeping great on this Vuelta, so after lunch I went for a nap for an hour and a half before strolling over the road to the supermarket for some coffee.

I'll then have a massage, some physio and have dinner before heading to bed again.

Although I'm pretty wrecked from the stages and the long transfers to our hotel most evenings, I've found it hard to nod off.

A lot of the time it's been my performances that have kept me awake rather than sore legs, noisy neighbours or anything else.

Instead of giving in to the tiredness, I've been replaying different stages over in my mind and asking myself 'what ifs'.

The post-stage transfers, too, have taken their toll on everybody.

Yesterday, on one of the early climbs, world time-trial champion Fabian Cancellara rode alongside me.

He was complaining about the sometimes three-hour drive to the hotels after each stage and was comparing this Vuelta to the Tour of Italy in May, which came in for a lot of stick with some mega transfers and really long stages.

"We have the climbs, the heat, the long transfers; all we are missing is an eight-hour stage and this race will be as bad as the Giro," he laughed.

After two weeks of racing, I am 20th overall, nine minutes and 16 seconds behind race leader Juan Jose Cobo of Geox.

I'm three minutes off the top 15 and five minutes outside the top 10, so I've set my sights on a stage win now rather than trying to move up the GC.

I thought the ultra-steep ascent of Angliru on Sunday would be a better climb for me.

I've been going much better on the steeper type climbs on this Vuelta and was looking forward to moving up the general classification.

I was really hoping that Sunday would be the day that saved my year. I knew a good climb would bring me into the top 10 overall, maybe even higher. I was hoping to finish in the top 15 on the stage and be up the front for most of the mountain.

Angliru should have been a climb that suited me but in the end it turned out to be the hammer blow that knocked me out of contention for a good overall placing.

It's tough to drift downwards again.

Last year, I had a year where everything went okay. I was in good form most of the season and even when I wasn't in top condition I was able to pick off results, like at the Tour of Romandie where I got a third place and a ninth place despite not being fully fit.

This year, I feel like I've been chasing form, running after results.

There's been the odd spark of hope like my fifth place on stage two at the Criterium du Dauphine, or my four top 10s here, but I'm soon brought back down to earth with poor legs and few results.

In saying that, I think Irish cycling has come on in leaps and bounds in the last five or six years.

Thanks to the likes of Philip Deignan, Daniel Martin and even myself, fifth place on a stage of the Tour of Spain is no longer a big deal back home.

A few years ago, there would be cheering from the rooftops if one of us got a top 10. Now, even second place isn't good enough, which is a good thing in a twisted sort of way.

It's not easy mentally to keep training, keep resting and keep eating properly and look after yourself all year -- when all you get on a hard day is your a**e whipped and you have very little to show for all the sacrifices.

It's worse when you tell the guys on the team before the stage, "Okay, today is the day. I want everybody behind me today. I'm feeling good and I want to do something at the finish," and then you can't put your legs where your mouth is.

I've no choice now but to go on the attack to try and win a stage and salvage something from this Vuelta and this season. I hope to get in a good breakaway group on one of the remaining six stages and go for a win.

Tuesday is a real sprinter's day though, so there's no point in trying then as all of the sprinters' teams will be working overtime to keep it together for a bunch sprint.

Sunday is the same, so realistically I have four chances left.

I'll have to try on each of those stages, even if it means I will be tiring myself out even more every day.

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