Friday 19 January 2018

'Chris Jensen is a hardman from Wicklow and said he was grand after his crash'

Giro D'Italiia Diary: Saturday, May 17, Stage 8: Foligno to Montecopiolo (179km)

Nairo Quintana of Colombia and Movistar in action during the eighth stage of the 2014 Giro d'Italia, a 179km medium mountain stage between Foligno and Montecopiolo in Montecopiolo, Italy. (Photo by Bryn Lennon - Velo/Getty Images)
Nairo Quintana of Colombia and Movistar in action during the eighth stage of the 2014 Giro d'Italia, a 179km medium mountain stage between Foligno and Montecopiolo in Montecopiolo, Italy. (Photo by Bryn Lennon - Velo/Getty Images)

Nicolas Roche

WE HAVEN'T really been spoiled with accommodation on this Giro but last night we stayed in a nice hotel with a beautiful view over an old Roman basilica, which was pretty spectacular in the dark.

Although I slept a bit better, I was down for breakfast around 8.15 and had a quick cup of coffee with our other early bird Michael Rogers before the rest of the lads joined us.

After destroying some of my gear in a crash on stage five and then forgetting my shorts yesterday, today I rearranged my race gear and transferred some stuff from my suitcase into my race bag and rain bag as we drove to the start.

With the first big mountains ahead of us today, there was a lot of attacking this morning with various groups trying to go clear.

Initially, 16 guys jumped up the road but they kept attacking each other and had whittled themselves down to 10 before they began to open a gap.

Although there were 10 teams represented up front and the Orica GreenEDGE team of race leader Michael Matthews weren't interested in chasing, my Tinkoff-Saxo team knew that once Movistar, BMC and a few other teams missed the move we would be okay.

After a bit of discussion we decided to put one man each on the front of the peloton and slowly set about bringing them back.

Having begun today's stage wearing one of the new team skin-suits, an all-in-one shorts and jersey, after going through the feed zone halfway through the stage, I soon realised that the pocket in the back hadn't enough room to keep all of my food in it and handed some of my supply to my team-mate Chris Anker Sorensen to put in his pockets.

Having opened a maximum lead of eight minutes, the breakaway's advantage was halved by the time we came to the bottom of the first-category climb of Cippo di Carpegna with about 50km to go.

There was some pretty tough racing going on as Movistar led the peloton onto the slope and when Ag2r hit the front halfway up, it really strung the peloton out.

At the top, there were only about 15 riders left at the front of the peloton. Unfortunately I wasn't one of them, having blown my lights about a kilometre and a half from the summit.

The fact that I'd been feeling a bit hungry for a while may have had something to do with it, so going over the top, a half minute behind the group, I grabbed a bottle of water and an energy gel.

As I ate and drank on the descent, a group of 10 riders caught me and collectively we made our way back up to the front of the peloton for the next second-category climb.

As well as myself and fourth-placed Rafal Majka, my Tinkoff-Saxo team had Michael and Chris Anker in the group of about 25 and Chris handed me back my energy bars just as we started to climb.

I was beginning to fade near the top and as Mick and Chris Anker had already drifted back, I joined them and the three of us rode the last 8km climb together.

As Rafal took eighth place on the stage and moved up to third overall, I finished six minutes down on stage winner Diego Ulissi.

I'm still not perfect, my hip is still a bit sore, but I felt much better than yesterday on the last climb and at last, I'm beginning to feel half-normal.

Sunday, May 18, Stage 9: Lugo to Sestola (172km)

With 100km of flat roads before we hit the first climbs today, we had another super-fast start. Although the plan was to have somebody in the break, nobody from my team made the 14-man escape today.

A crash in a section of crosswind this morning saw my team-mates Chris Jensen and Pawel Poljanski fall and former pink jersey Michael Matthews leave half of his shorts and a lot of his skin on the road.

Pawel fell on the side that he crashed on the other day so he's pretty sore but Chris is a hardman from Wicklow and said he was grand when I asked him how he was.

With race leader Cadel Evans' BMC squad riding tempo at the front for much of the stage, my Tinkoff-Saxo team tried to sit near the front and out of trouble.

We knew that the road was going to get really narrow on the last mountain so with 12km to go, we went to the front so that Rafal didn't have to fight for position and could avoid the stop-start rhythm that comes with riding further back.

We knew that Ag2r had a man in the break so when they sent another one up the road on the climb it was obvious that Domenico Pozzovivo was going to attack.

A great climber, Pozzovivo had started the day in 10th place overall and the 18km summit finish would give him ample time to try and move up today.

With about 7km to go, I hit the front of the peloton and tried to ride a hard enough tempo to dissuade him from going too early.

Pozzovivo launched his attack with 4km to go and, while I tried to increase the pace behind him, I had burned all my matches and swung out of the way as race leader Evans and the other contenders took over the chase.

Pozzovivo caught all but two of the day's early breakaways and finished third on the stage, while Rafal stayed with his rivals for ninth. Rafal is still third overall now but Pozzovivo has jumped up to fourth and is now within 10 seconds of my Polish team-mate.

I rode to the finish in a little group with BMC's Samuel Sanchez, Francis Mourey of FDJ and Serge Pauwels of Quickstep, crossing the line 3'53" back.

Like a lot of the leaders at this Giro, things have changed significantly for me since we left Ireland last Monday.

Now 49th overall, over 24 minutes behind, my goal now is to help Rafal maintain his podium place while looking out for a breakaway later on in the race.

I think this Giro is still pretty up in the air as far as the winner is concerned. The three critical stages don't come until the last three days, so there's a lot to be done until then.


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