Nicolas Roche: 'Vigano went wrong way and rode into a car park'
The first flat stage in over a week was always going to be controlled by the big teams and end in a bunch sprint, but that didn't stop Julien Fouchard of Cofidis and Andalucia team-mates Antonio Cabello and Jesus Rosendo taking off from the gun today.
As the three leaders scurried up the road and began to build up a maximum lead of eight minutes, the peloton settled into an easy rhythm and I escaped the Vuelta for a good 40 minutes by talking to my friend and former training partner Geoffrey Lequatre of Radioshack.
For the past couple of weeks there have been rumours of a merger between Geoffrey's Radioshack squad and the Leopard Trek team of the Schleck brothers. Last night it was confirmed and the new team will be known as Radioshack-Nissan Trek for 2012. For Geoffrey and others, like Ireland's Philip Deignan, this is bad news as they don't have a contract for next year.
With both teams merging they will now be top-heavy with big riders, while those on the fringe will be let go, joining the leftover riders from the soon-to-be defunct HTC squad and the soon-to-merge Omega Pharma-Quickstep team in the hunt for a job next year.
Geoffrey's Japanese team-mate Fumiyuki Beppu said he feels like Michael Jackson. "All I wanna say is that they don't really care about us!"
"I'll have a few stressful weeks ahead," Geoffrey said as we rode along. "Team managers will wait until the end of October to make offers at a very low salary and frankly, I'll probably accept it rather than quit cycling."
Geoffrey recently started a clothing company, 'G4 Dimension' and will probably focus on that after cycling. As I have a great interest in fashion, we've even talked of collaborating on something in the future, but for now we both want to keep racing.
The frequent collapse of top teams in cycling is a big issue and something has to give in the way the sport is run. Too much emphasis is put on UCI points rather than how good a rider actually is. The points system is unbalanced too. You get 100 points for winning Paris-Roubaix, but just a single point for fifth place on a stage of the Tour de France.
Teams are only looking for riders with points so that they can stay in the first division which means that, although Mark Cavendish earns a lot of points by winning races, the team-mates that sacrificed their own chances to help him win have nothing to show for it when their team folds and they go looking for a job. Having signed a lot of top riders last winter Leopard Trek were No 1 team in the world on January 1 and they'd only been in existence a day, which is ridiculous.
At the team briefing today, I was told to stay close to the front in the final sprint for two reasons. One was to stay out of trouble as there were a lot of corners in the final kilometres, but the other was to hold onto my 20th place overall as there are two UCI points available for 20th overall on the Vuelta and the team needs every point we can get.
I forced myself to stay up near the front in the twisting finale, but, like everybody else, got a big surprise at the final roundabout with about 400m to go when Davide Vigano, who was leading out his sprinter Daniel Benatti, took it the wrong way and instead of going left, headed right and rode into the team car park. At the last minute, I remembered that the road-book had said to take the roundabout on the left, so I went left and followed the riders in front of me. I was 11th on the stage and as there was a split in the bunch due to all the corners, I gained three seconds on those behind me.
My team-mate Steve Houanard was involved in a crash with 15km to go today. Points leader Joaquin Rodriguez came down, too, and lost 11 minutes on the stage due to his injuries. Rodriguez's drop down the overall and my three second bonus at the finish means I moved up two places to 18th today which wasn't exactly the plan at the start of the day, but is a pleasant surprise.
Vuelta a Espana,
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