Tuesday 23 January 2018

'Having Chris Froome as team leader adds a bit of pressure'

Philip Deignan's Vuelta a Espana diary

Chris Froome is leading the Team Sky effort in the Vuelta a Espana, of which Philip Deignan will be also a part. Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Chris Froome is leading the Team Sky effort in the Vuelta a Espana, of which Philip Deignan will be also a part. Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Philip Deignan

Before I begin, I apologise to those of you expecting to see Nicolas Roche's Vuelta diary here today. As he has already ridden the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, a third Grand Tour this year would have been a bit much for Nico and he has a different end-of-season programme planned, which means you're stuck with me for the next three weeks instead.

Saturday, August 23, Jerez de la Frontera, Stage 1: Team Time Trial (12.6km)

For those of you who don't know me, I'm from Letterkenny in Donegal. It's my first year riding with Team Sky and this is my fourth Vuelta a Espana - I won a stage and finished ninth overall in 2009.

I don't generally get nervous before races but team time trials are a different animal.

In an effort to stay out of the wind we all ride in a more aerodynamic position, really close to each other, and with your hands in the centre of the handlebars on 'tri-bars' and away from the brakes for long periods of time, there's a lot of risk involved.


What happened to Dan Martin at the Giro d'Italia in Belfast is always in the back of your mind before a team time trial, while having Chris Froome as team leader here also adds a little bit of pressure.

A Vuelta runner-up in 2012 and winner of the 2013 Tour, Chris is one of the favourites here, so you don't want to make a mistake that could compromise his race.

All of this, plus the fact that I felt really bad this morning when we did our last pre-stage recon ride, meant that I spent most of this afternoon living on my nerves.

We arrived in Jerez on Wednesday and although we've trained each day, the last three days have been a long, drawn-out process of waiting around for the racing to start, which is the worst part of any Grand Tour.

I felt a lot better once we rolled down the start ramp this evening, although the circuit was better suited to lead-out guys and guys with more explosive power than me.

The stage went pretty much according to plan for the team, apart from a few small mistakes. Some of us probably did stints on the front that were too long and we messed up a few corners as well, taking a little longer than we should have to get out of them.

My Italian team-mate Dario Cataldo also messed up one of the roundabouts, which was easily done as there were 22 of them on the course. Dario's radio wasn't working and as we came into one roundabout where we were supposed to go straight through, Dario thought we were to do a U-turn and braked way too hard while we shouted at him to go straight, so he got a bit of slagging at dinner tonight.

As the clock stops on the fifth member of the team to finish, we planned for only five guys to be together at the line, with the others each doing one last flat-out turn at the front, almost like a lead-out for a sprint, before peeling off.

Our strongman Vasil Kyryienka led us across the line with Chris, myself, Peter Kennaugh and Mikel Nieve spread across the road behind him to try and stop the clock as soon as we could.

I'm more of a gradual steady rhythm type rider so all the corners and accelerations today didn't come easy but the fact that I was able to get around with the rest of the guys is hopefully a good sign.

However, we were disappointed with our time. Having hoped for maybe a top five, in the end we were 27 seconds slower than stage winners Movistar in 11th place, so there was a bit of a subdued atmosphere on the team bus.

Looking back, we took a cautious approach and probably could have gone a bit faster but it's a long three weeks to Madrid and a lot can change by then.

Sunday, August 24, Stage 2: Algeciras to San Fernando (174.4km)

The first day of any Grand Tour can be a nervous affair, with the whole peloton fresh-legged and eager to show their face at the front. For the smaller teams, these mainly flat openers mean a chance to get up the road and get some valuable TV time for their sponsors.

For the sprinters' teams, the opening days give them a chance to practise their predatory skills by allowing the early escapees to dangle out front until they can almost smell the white paint of the finish line, before reeling them in and unleashing their fast man to gallop past them and win the stage.

For my Sky team, and the rest of those squads with hopes of a high overall placing, these days are about survival, about getting your team leader to the line in one piece and making sure he has expended as little energy as possible in doing so.

With just one climb, the third category Alto del Cabrito, coming after 10km, today's stage was destined to end a bunch sprint.

Five riders went up the road from the gun.

The Movistar team of race leader Jonathon Castroviejo rode a pretty good tempo at the front of the peloton to keep them at three or four minutes, while the rest of us got on with our own daily tasks.


One of my jobs today was to go back for bottles for the guys and I dropped back to the car three or four times during the stage, stuffing bottles in my jersey and bringing them back to the front.

As with any other line of work, being busy makes the day go quicker and soon we were in the last 20km with the breakaways in sight.

Having managed to keep Chris out of trouble thus far, we wanted to make sure he didn't lose any time if the bunch split towards the end.

With around 17km to go, I swapped turns with Pete and our big German powerhouse Christian Knees on the left-hand side of the road, while other teams did the same in the middle and on the right.

I swung off with about 5km to go as the sprinters' teams took over and Chris held his place to the line, finishing 17th behind stage winner Nacer Bouhanni of FDJ.

It's nice to get the first day under your belt. From now on it will be easier to settle into the familiar routine of eat, sleep and race, that stage racing brings.

Vuelta a Espana, Live, Eurosport, 3.00pm

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