Saturday 17 March 2018

Froome proves again that every second counts

Vuelta A Espana Diary

Bahrain- Merida’s Vincenzo Nibali performs the ‘shark’ celebration as he wins the third stage of the Vuelta a Espana. Photo: Getty Images
Bahrain- Merida’s Vincenzo Nibali performs the ‘shark’ celebration as he wins the third stage of the Vuelta a Espana. Photo: Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Monday August 21, Stage 3: Prades to Andorra (158.5kms)

After an hour and a half transfer to the start town of Prades this morning our team bus got stuck in a traffic jam on the outskirts of town as the clock ticked down to the start.

When we did get in closer to the start village the team car park was full, so we had to park down a side street.

After listening to the team briefing while hurriedly getting changed, we just about got to the sign-on before the 15 minute-to-go cut-off.

As I started today's stage as leader of the King of the Mountains competition, my polka-dot jersey gave me a slot on the front line of the peloton with the rest of the classification leaders at the start, which meant at least I didn't have to fight to get there in the opening kilometres.

With three big climbs on today's stage, the last of which coming just 7km from the finish, we all knew it was going to be the first test for anybody aiming for a good placing overall in this Vuelta, so my BMC team had no plans to do anything apart from help get myself, Tejay van Garderen and Rohan Dennis to the foot of the final climb in the best position possible and see how we got on from there on.

When an early break of six riders merged at the front after 10km, the Quickstep team of overnight leader Yves Lampaert set the pace at the front of the peloton with Team Sky giving them a hand later on.

My team-mates and I rode all day in third or fourth team and Tejay, Rohan and I were well supplied with bottles and food by the rest of the guys. With the break falling apart about two minutes up the road, Fran Ventoso gave me a hand to get into position on the penultimate climb of La Rabassa with around 40km to go, as Sky increased the tempo again at the bottom of the 13km incline.

Sky have such a strong group of climbers here that I wasn't sure if they intended breaking the race up on La Rabassa or waiting to the last one, but by the time we got to the top, overnight leader Lampaert was dropped, the peloton was blown apart and there were only maybe 30 of us left.

Although the descent that followed had loads of switchbacks, it was pretty wide so there were riders trying to dive up the inside every time we rounded a bend, making it a nightmare to hold position in the group. In the valley below we had a few kilometres drag leading us towards the day's intermediate sprint with 12km to go.

With three seconds time bonus on offer for the winner, two for second and one for third, the guys asked me if I wanted to go for it but at that stage I wasn't feeling capable of sprinting.

I knew we had less than a kilometre to go to the final climb and was just happy to stay in the line.

Having led us down the descent, the UAE team were riding hard on the front when Chris Froome stole up the inside at the last possible moment and snatched the three seconds on offer. Sky lit it up at the bottom of the final climb of Alto de la Comella, whittling the group down with every kilometre and reeling in the early breakaways.

With 9km to go I was riding 11th wheel in the now 16-strong group, with my room-mate Tejay a few bikes ahead of me.

When the last of his Sky domestiques had done his work a kilometre later, Froome attacked and with only Colombian climber Esteban Chaves of Orica-Scott able to stay with him, our group began to disintegrate.

Fabio Aru and Romain Bardet went over the top a handful of seconds behind them while I fought to hang onto the remnants of our group. About 400m from the top I could see the King of the Mountains banner on the summit and knew that I was in trouble if I couldn't regain contact with renowned descender Nibali before then.

I caught him just under the banner and we rode hard to catch his Italian compatriot Domenico Pozzovivo on the descent with Tejay making his way across to us on the way down.

Aru and Bardet made contact with Froome and Chaves about 10 seconds ahead of us but we chased hard all the way and caught them with about 700m to go.

Just as we made contact we hit a double right hander and I went straight up the inside in the hope of catching them by surprise and snatching the stage. It's not that I was feeling fantastic at that point but I reckoned that everybody else was in the same boat after such a hard finale and I just took the chance.

My attack wasn't explosive enough though and Chaves immediately jumped on my wheel and when we hit a headwind a few metres later Nibali slingshot to victory in the last 300m or so.

Looking back, my move was maybe a mistake as I was one of the better sprinters in the group and maybe could have finished higher than seventh on the stage if I'd gambled on my sprint instead.

Having won the opening team time trial, I had earmarked today as a possible chance to don the red jersey of race leader. Losing 13 seconds on a flat stage finish yesterday though wiped that out and today I'm still kicking myself over it now.

I moved up two places to third overall today, two seconds off new race leader Froome, who proved today that every second counts.

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