Nicolas Roche: 'Starting under street lights will be chaotic'
It's been five weeks since my last diary and I'm guilty of the following sins:
One: I ignored my bike for two days after the Tour de France; I stayed in Paris and did all the touristy things with my girlfriend Chiara. We even went to EuroDisney.
Two: I haven't ridden a proper race in four weeks. In fact, apart from the Clasica San Sebastian on the Sunday after the Tour de France and three post-Tour criteriums, I haven't ridden any race in five weeks.
Three: I badly mistimed my sprint at San Sebastian and finished eighth from a chase group of seven riders. I was sprinting for fourth, but having constantly been told that I start my sprint too early, decided to leave it as late as possible. I waited and waited and as it turned out, left it way too late and ended up eighth. I was disgusted with myself for being beaten by a group of mainly non-sprinters.
Four: I missed my cousin Dan Martin's great win at Tre Valle Varesine because I got stuck in traffic. Having gone for a long, hard spin that morning, I decided to go and watch the finish of the Italian one-day race that afternoon as it's not too far from my apartment in Varese. Because it was a beautiful, sunny day, myself and Chiara went to the lake for a coffee first.
We were yapping away when I realised the race would be on its way to the finish. On the motorway we got stuck in traffic and I missed the finish, where Dan soloed in ahead of all the stars for a great victory.
I spoke to him on the phone afterwards, but he was so busy with media interviews that I didn't see him until the following night when we had a glass of wine to celebrate his latest win and also his 24th birthday.
Five: I missed two days' training in a row last Thursday and Friday. Okay, the first one was actually a planned rest day, but the second one was my own fault. My apartment in Varese is on the top floor. I have a garage downstairs, but I rarely use it for my bike. Instead, I have a little bike shed on my terrace where I usually keep my trusty steed.
When I'm fully kitted out for training, which is always the hardest part of the day -- getting ready -- I grab my bike off the balcony and bring it down in the lift.
Last week, however, I decided to redecorate my apartment and left the bike in the garage. When I went to get it out the next morning, I couldn't find the key. I'm standing outside in my Ag2r gear, with enough food and drinks for a five-hour spin, but have no bike. I called the local locksmith, but because it was a public holiday in Italy, he wasn't available and couldn't come out until 5.0 and the day was wasted.
To add insult to injury he charged me €150 for two minutes' work.
Six: I was rude to a locksmith (very rude).
Seven: I ate pizza that evening. Seeing how angry I was at missing training, Chiara bought it to cheer me up, so I sort of had to eat it.
Eight: I enjoyed it.
For my penance, I had to do two very long, very hard training rides on Saturday and Sunday.
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Tonight I will start my second Grand Tour of the year, the Vuelta a Espana or Tour of Spain to you and me. It will be the first time I have ridden two three-week Tours in the same year and it's going to be a bit of an experiment for me.
After the Tour de France, I could have ridden some smaller stage races and some big one-day races, but I wanted to do something different this year, and will ride La Vuelta for some more experience.
I was fairly tired after the Tour and spent the first week or so recovering and the rest of the time preparing for the Tour of Spain. The weather in Italy was pretty miserable up until last week, with rain every day.
I had trouble with my sinuses last week from training in the rain, but it seems to have cleared up now.
With no racing in my legs, I've had to do a lot of long rides at home in Varese, with sessions behind a motorbike to try and bring my speed up.
For the past fortnight or so I've been riding out to my girlfriend's uncle's house, which is about an hour away from my apartment. I'd meet Fabrizio there and he would motor pace me on a 75km loop for another hour and 20 minutes or so. After that, I'd ride home the long way for another hour and a half's training.
I rode the Vuelta once before, in 2008, finishing second in a photo finish on stage 18 (another mistimed sprint) and 13th overall. You can never tell how well you are going, though, until you start racing and I'm a bit worried because I don't really know how my form will be at this year's edition.
I had my pre-race medical yesterday and am actually lighter and have less body fat than I had at the Tour, which is good, but being skinny doesn't mean you're going to be fast.
I'm starting the Vuelta with the aim of trying to ride for the General Classification again, but, if I don't think I have the form to do that, then I will try and go for a stage win. In the Tour I wanted to see how far I could go if I just stuck with the big guys for as long as I could. In the Vuelta, though, I have more options. I want to attack more.
Okay, I'm trying to ride for GC, but I'd like to enjoy a bit of racing as well and don't want to just follow wheels for three more weeks.
I'd like to do a bit of attacking and try to get into moves and go for stage wins. I have always been an aggressive rider and attacking is what I like to do. It's what gives me a thrill.
We have a pretty good Ag2r La Mondiale team here in Seville for the Vuelta. It will be based pretty much the same as at the Tour with me as sole leader and the other riders going for stage wins. I have Rinaldo Nocentini and our mountain stage winner Christophe Riblon with me from the Tour team.
Then there is the very experienced Jose Luis Arrieta, who is our local Spanish rider and is retiring after this Vuelta. We have a couple of young riders, Guillaume Bonnafond -- who crashed out of the Giro this year -- and Biel Kadri, plus climbers Hubert Dupont and Ludovic Turpin. Also keep an eye out for Sebastian Hinault's yellow shoes in the bunch sprints.
There is a big group of sprinters here this year, so their teams will be keen to bring back breakaways and set up a few bunch sprints on the flatter days. The world championships course in Australia next month is supposed to suit the sprinters, so Cavendish, Petacchi, Hushovd, Farrar and Freire will all be testing themselves with one eye on the rainbow jersey in Geelong.
By Tuesday, I reckon I will know whether I can ride for the GC or not. We have the long climb up to Ronda tomorrow and then there are a couple of tough first-category climbs, including the Port de Leon on the way to Malaga the day after. If I lose too much time there, I may have to change the plan.
The weather has been incredibly hot in Spain this week. We arrived to 45 degree heat here on Wednesday. It was so hot that we couldn't go out training until 7.0 in the evening.
Tonight the Vuelta starts with a team time trial in Seville. At 10.0 at night! How did the race organisers get away with that? Having a stage so late at night, under the street lights of Seville might be good for the TV cameras, but it's going to be chaotic for us. We will only get onto the turbo trainers at around 9.30, warm up and then ride the time trial together.
In a team time trial, you are only as strong as your weakest rider and the clock stops on the fifth man across the line. It's only 16km, but you have to go full gas for the whole distance.
Anybody who does any type of sport knows it takes a while to get rid of the adrenalin and excitement afterwards. We probably won't be able to sleep until 2.0 in the morning. We just do what we are told, but it's not a great way to start a stage race, for the riders anyway.