Nicolas Roche: 'Sweat was dripping off me for most of the stage'
Tuesday, August 31 Stage 4: Malaga to Valdepenas de Jaen 183km
Today we had three big mountains to tackle before we got to the finish of the stage, which ended on a very narrow, very steep climb up to the mountain village of Valdepenas de Jaen.
I had a hard start to the stage this morning as my legs were still a bit tired after Monday's uphill finish, but as the race went on I felt better and ended the stage strongly to take eighth place.
Sometimes, the first hour of racing is the hardest as breaks continuously try to get established, but are often reeled in if they include any riders deemed to be a threat.
On a stage race, you can be a threat to numerous people for numerous reasons. If you're high on the GC, then you're going to be a threat to the race leader and other overall contenders and will rarely be allowed go anywhere.
If you are up in the King of the Mountains classification on a hilly stage, then the Mountains leader's team is going to try and take you back so that he can earn maximum points over the climbs. On a flat stage, the sprinters' teams calculate how many riders and which ones they can afford to let open a gap before they methodically reel them in towards the end of the stage.
Today though, the early break went after just 25km and because they went before the first climb, the Omega Pharma Lotto team of race leader Philippe Gilbert started riding straight away at the front of the peloton and kept the pace pretty steady.
It's important for our team to try and have someone in the break each day because there's always the chance that they could stay away until the finish.
The day that you have nobody from your team in the move is usually the day that the break gets 10 minutes and contests the stage win. If that happened and we had nobody in it, then we would be kicking ourselves after the stage.
We had Guillaume Bonnafond in the four-man break today. The quartet built up a maximum lead of almost six minutes, but with Guillaume having started the day just two minutes and 59 seconds down on Gilbert overall, the Lotto squad knew that if they didn't reign him in a bit, he would take over the red leader's jersey at the end of the stage.
Having dropped two of the others halfway up the second category climb of the Alto de Valdepenas de Jaen, around 40km from the finish, Guillaume went clear with Dario Cataldo of Quickstep and stayed away until three kilometres from the top of the final mountain.
The mountain isn't really that steep, more of a gradual incline, but it was really long and open and Giampaolo Caruso from Katusha set a fast tempo on the front of the peloton to try and get rid of Gilbert for his leader Joaquin Rodriguez, who began the day second overall.
On a climb like that, it's more about strength than anything. You have to be careful to be in the right position because if somebody in front of you lets a wheel go and opens a gap, the pace is so fast that you are never going to be able to ride around him and regain contact.
Although Caruso punctured off the front of the line, team-mate Vladimir Karpets took over and by the top there were only 23 of us left. We had a team car parked near the top and the mechanic handed me a welcome cold bottle on another scorcher of a day.
Today was a different type of heat. Although it was 'only' 38 degrees, it was a lot more humid, with little or no air. The sweat was dripping off me for most of the stage. But, as I said yesterday, when you're in the thick of the action you forget about all that and as we approached the short, steep final climb to the finish I was feeling pretty good.
I usually like today and yesterday's type of finishes. Yesterday, I cramped a bit near the end; afterwards I wasn't sure if my sixth place was gained more through courage than good form. Usually on the short, steep finishing climbs like today, I start strong and kind of crack towards the line, but today I actually got stronger as I got closer to the finish.
Although I was caught in the middle of the group when Basque climber Igor Anton jumped clear for his stage win, I passed Rigoberto Uran and Ruben Plaza from Caisse Depargne in the last 300 metres of the stage to take eighth and almost got Ezequiel Mosquera from Xacobeo Galicia on the line for seventh.
Immediately after the line, I rode straight across to the barrier on the left hand side of the road and I grabbed it to stop me keeling over on the hill. The road ahead was blocked with photographers, policemen, fans and team officials and there was no way I was going to try and ride through all those people in that heat. I could hardly breathe as it was. I waited there for the team soigneur to come down to me. The first thing he did when he saw me was pour water on me to cool me down.
After the stage, I had yet another cold shower in the team bus and then ate some mashed potato and chicken before heading for the team car and a 110kms transfer to tomorrow's start town.
Although it was still way up in the 30s outside, we didn't put the air conditioning on in the team car. I don't know where it came from, but most professional cyclists believe that if you put on the air conditioning after a hot stage, you are more likely to catch a cold, so we all just sat there sweating and had to get another shower when we arrived at our hotel.
Today's result confirms that I'm in pretty good shape and I'm a bit more confident about my condition now. I'm up to 11th overall now, 58 seconds behind the red jersey of Gilbert. Wednesday is a supposedly flat day to Lorca, so maybe I can recover a little.
I am up to fifth overall in the white jersey's combined classification, awarded to the rider with the highest placings on all of the various other classifications added together. I could aim for that, but it would mean that I would have to contest the bunch sprint if there is one tomorrow and I would also have to do the intermediate sprints, but for the moment, I am happy to keep riding for the overall and see how that goes.
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