Monday 24 July 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'Today was one of those days that just drags on'

Friday, September 10 Stage 13: Rincon de Soto to Burgos 196km

This morning before the stage, Chiara phoned me to tell me that we finally got a landline and broadband installed in our apartment in Varese.

I've been living there almost two years and haven't been organised enough to get it sorted. Instead, I've used two mobile phones and mobile broadband, costing me an arm and a leg. Chiara moved in with me just 10 days before the Vuelta and has it sorted already. Behind every good man ...

Because I could be in two or three different countries in the same week, my phone bill is unbelievably high. I probably need to be riding for a team sponsored by a mobile phone company instead of an agricultural insurance company! I have two mobiles, one Italian and one French. Even though I now live in Italy, I always have my French number on roaming, so that it doesn't cost my family a fortune to ring me whenever they want.

Some guys hate being on the phone on races, and apart from calling their wives or girlfriends, you never see them talking. I spend a fair bit of time on it every day, probably too much. Every morning, I swap texts with my mam and brothers in France. My aunts Carol and Pam and all the gang in Ireland call me a few times a week during each Grand Tour.

I text my sister Christel and my Granny Roche in Dundrum too and before and after each stage, I phone Chiara in Italy for a chat.

The team doctor has started to give out to me for using my mobile too much. The other day he caught me talking on the phone while I was on the massage table after the stage. It's become a bit of an issue, but I'm working on it.

Fast

Today was another very fast day on the Vuelta. We knew this morning the stage could go two ways. If the peloton let 15 guys up the road, they would stay away, and if they let three or four guys up the road the stage would end in a bunch sprint finish. Groups of various sizes attacked and were brought back until eventually five riders went clear 30km into the stage.

It was one of those long, hard days and wasn't really a recovery day at all. I was feeling okay on the two third-category climbs today. We've done 13 stages now and have two weeks racing in the legs but they weren't going full pelt up the climbs. I felt okay, but I know that today's hills were nothing like the mountains we will face in the next three days.

Today was one of those days that just drags on and on and never seems to end. The first and last hours were flat out and then the three hours in the middle were spent quietly sitting behind the wheel in front of me. After two weeks of racing nobody is in the humour to chat anymore, so we just rode along for the most part in one long, silent, line. People often say it must be great to see all the beautiful scenery in all the different countries as we ride along, but the last two countries I've been in just looked like a cyclist's arse to me.

All the GC guys were nervous coming into the finish and were fighting to make sure they didn't lose any time if the bunch split in the sprint, but I crossed the line in 34th place and kept out of danger. There is a lot of pressure on the team to get a stage win now. Teams go into these type of races for two reasons -- to get a stage win and to have somebody place highly on the general classification. My job is to try and get a good placing on the GC and the other guys are trying to help me but are also trying to get a stage win.

You can see the tiredness creeping in after each stage. You can see the bags appearing under the eyes of some guys at the breakfast table. We still have a bit of a laugh at stupid stuff but guys are more interested in sleeping on the bus now instead of chatting and slagging each other.

The bus driver is a great guy and always has everything spotless and ready for us, but he's pretty grumpy and is prone to a bit of road rage. He's always blowing the horn, which pisses off anyone who's asleep. We used to laugh at it but now people are too tired to see the funny side. We've gotten lost three times on the way to various hotels so far.

tiredness

The first week was funny. Now it's just a nuisance. Last night, it took us 45 minutes to do nine kilometres on the bus and the driver got dog's abuse from the guys as we flew past our hotel on the other side of the motorway. But it's just tiredness, everybody wanting to get inside, lie down and rest.

The team gets on really well, though, and we have a bit of fun. Last night we were at yet another roadside motel and the dessert selection was non-existent. I went outside and walked across to the garage forecourt and bought everyone a Magnum ice-cream instead. I even got one for myself. Double chocolate! Oh well, back to weight watchers in the morning.

I'm still rooming on my own, which suits everyone because I go to bed and get up earlier than the other guys. The other guys watch TV after dinner, while I just go straight to sleep. We are in the wine producing area of Spain tonight. Joe Luis Arrieta is from around here and his wife and kids are visiting him, so I'll have a half glass to be sociable, but no more than that.

I'm really psyched for the next three stages and they are going to be very important for everybody. I am still ninth overall and hope to stay where I am after Saturday's stage but it will be hard. We have a third-category climb to start the stage, followed by two tough second categories and finish at the top of a first-category mountain.

Strong climber Franck Schleck is on the same time as me and, sooner or later, the Luxembourg champion has to do something if he wants to win this Vuelta. I have three days of pressure coming, where I have to stay focused and battle hard to hold my place.

Tejay Van Garderen from America is just under a minute behind me in 15th place and there are five guys in between who could overtake me if I slip up in the mountains over the weekend, and that's not counting the ones further back who could slip into a break and take a few minutes. Three more days of pressure and then the second rest day on Tuesday. Can't wait.

Vuelta a Espana,

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