Saturday 22 September 2018

‘I didn’t have time to eat and realised my legs were gone’

Volta a Catalunya diary

'Although the snow was six-feet high on each side of the road as we climbed, it was pretty warm on the hour-long slog to the top and I was glad I'd handed my gilet to the team car at the bottom' (stock picture)
'Although the snow was six-feet high on each side of the road as we climbed, it was pretty warm on the hour-long slog to the top and I was glad I'd handed my gilet to the team car at the bottom' (stock picture)

Nicolas Roche

Thursday, March 22. Stage 4: Llanars to La Molina (171km)

Last night my BMC team-mates and I were sleeping in a little family-run hotel halfway up a mountain.

With the wind that has pummelled us all week on this Tour of Catalonia turning into a full-blown storm after yesterday's stage it was hard to get to sleep last night as my room windows were rattled by the gusts and the temperature dropped to -7C outside.

The storm passed in the middle of the night though, so there were no changes to today's route which featured the 25km 'Especial Category' ascent of the Coll de la Creueta after 115km, with the climb to the summit at La Molina ski resort coming directly after La Creueta's equally-long descent.

I was given a free hand to get into the breakaway this morning, but the breakneck speed of the opening downhill kilometres meant that I bided my time and waited until after the first 30km before I made my first move.

Rather than let a group go clear and ride tempo on the front after them, today the Movistar team of second-placed Alejandro Valverde just let the groups attack and chase each other, even joining in with the attacks a lot of the time.

With 49km covered in the first hour of racing, I think they just wanted to make it hard for overnight leader Thomas De Gendt and his Lotto team to keep things under control and Valverde even managed to earn himself a three-second time bonus when he won the second intermediate sprint after 51km from a cheeky little escape group.

Although my first couple of moves went nowhere, I kept trying and soon I was racing like a junior and got caught up in the vicious cycle of attacking, getting caught, attacking again and getting caught again.

To be honest, I'm not in good enough condition to be contesting the overall classification here this week so trying to get up the road and into the breakaway was sort of killing two birds with one stone for me.

If I manage to get up the road, then I have a chance of doing something on the stage, possibly even winning.

If I don't get into the break, then the constant attacking - doing efforts you can't mimic in training, will hopefully help improve my condition for the next race.

I must have been in more than 20 groups in the first 90km today but unfortunately nothing stuck until Colombian climber Esteban Chaves went clear in a little group of four and things settled down.

Of course the flip side of all that constant attacking is that it's going to drain you sooner or later and I paid the price on La Creueta.

Although the snow was six-feet high on each side of the road as we climbed, it was pretty warm on the hour-long slog to the top and I was glad I'd handed my gilet to the team car at the bottom.

I tried to help Tejay van Garderen stay in contention on the slope but after moving him closer to the front about 6km from the summit, I realised that with all of the jumping around earlier on I hadn't had time to eat properly and my legs were gone.

Rather than going totally into the red and ruining myself for the rest of the race, I slowly drifted out the back of the group, grabbed a few rice cakes from the car and continued on at my own pace, soon settling into a little group behind.

Descent

Just after we crossed the King of the Mountains line, the team soigneurs at the roadside handed me a bottle and jacket for the cold descent but as soon as I zipped it up I remembered that I'd left my gloves in the pocket of my gilet.

With the team car gone on ahead there was nothing I could do but grin and bear it as the wind chill and icy spray from the slushy puddles on the side of the road bit into my hands.

The little fingers on both of my hands went numb on the way down and although they came back to life a bit on the way up the last climb, one of them still isn't right yet.

As Valverde went on to claim his second stage win and take back the race leader's jersey at the summit, Tejay took 14th on the stage, a minute back, while I finished in a group around 20 minutes down.

The aim for me now is to try and get in the breakaway at some stage over the final three days.

Tomorrow is another tough day in the mountains; more than 200km with three big climbs along the way.

It's going to be a lottery to get into the break each day but as they say about the lottery, 'if you're not in, you can't win'.

  • Tour of Catalunya, Live, Eurosport 1, 2.45

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