Saturday 14 December 2019

Nicholas Roche: Giro D'italia diary - Stage 14 Aglie to Oropa

'Although I speak English, French and Italian, when he told me to f*** off what came out of my mouth was just bad language'

Colombia's Rigoberto Uran celebrates on podium after retaining the pink jersey after the15th stage of the Giro D'Italia
Colombia's Rigoberto Uran celebrates on podium after retaining the pink jersey after the15th stage of the Giro D'Italia

Nicolas Roche

Saturday May 24, Stage 14: Aglie to Oropa (164km)

Today's mountain stage, with four big climbs and a first-category summit finish, looked ripe for a breakaway group. Fortunately, I made it into the move again today, after just one attack.

I was riding near the front of the peloton with my team-mate Chris Juul-Jensen right beside me, keeping me out of the wind and maybe 10 riders up the road when I jumped.

I got across with five or six guys and eventually we had 21 riders in the break, our gap went out to around nine minutes and it looked pretty sure we would stay away to the line.

When you're in the breakaway, you have the team car driving right behind the group, so in order to keep the weight down on the climbs, I kept one bottle on the bike and dropped to the car any time I ran out.

With about 45km to go, near the top of the penultimate climb, our gap had dropped considerably due to attacks from the peloton and my directeur sportif Lars Michaelsen came over the radio in my earpiece.

"Nico, there is a 20km descent before the last climb. If you see the opportunity, if the guys aren't working hard enough, give it a shot."

I rode up the outside of the group and attacked, opening a 10-second gap at the summit.

Unfortunately, there was a pretty strong headwind on the descent and after about 10km on my own, the rest of the group caught me with about 30km to go.

I tried to recover until the bottom of the final climb, with 12km to go. I was so afraid of running out of energy that I stuffed three energy gels into me in the last 15km, but the third one was too much and I almost spewed it straight back out.

Manuel Quinziato of BMC and Albert Timmer of Giant-Shimano took advantage of a slight stall in the group as we approached the climb.

They powered away and before we knew it, Quinziato's car went by, which usually means they have a minute's lead.

Unfortunately for Quinziato, though, he had broken his gear shifter and his car was going up to give him a spare bike.

We took him back pretty quickly because of that, but Timmer did a really good climb and we only caught him in the last kilometre.

Edvald Boasson Hagen set a fast pace for his Sky team-mate Dario Cataldo early on, before the Italian launched his move with about 6km to go, going clear with Mattia Cattaneo of Lampre.

I tried to follow them and eventually got across with Jarlinson Pantano of Colombia and Lotto's Tim Wellens as we went under the 5km to go banner.

Cataldo and Pantano jumped again, however, with 3.5km remaining, and with Cattaneo's team-mate Jan Polanc in tow, passed Timmer in the final kilometre.

Cattaneo, Enrico Battaglin of Bardiani, Ivan Santaromita of Orica GreenEDGE and Emanuele Sella of Androni came across to me and Wellens in the last kilometre.

With the leaders dangling just 200 metres ahead, just as they made contact, we hit a really steep section, so I dragged every last joule of energy out of my legs and gave it one last effort. We were all on the limit at that stage, so I was either going to get across to the group or blow up and everybody else was in the same boat.

When I attacked, Battaglin came with me. He rode across the gap and I couldn't, catching Cataldo on the line to win the stage.

I caught Timmer with about 400 metres to go for fifth place on the stage.

I sprinted as hard as I possibly could to try and catch Polanc before the summit, but I didn't have much left and he got there first.

I suppose fifth on a mountain stage is always nice, but looking at the bigger picture, today was a perfect chance for me to win a stage at this Giro, so I'm a bit disappointed.

I was able to pick the right move today and, on paper, I was probably one of the favourites in the group, with Cataldo, but just wasn't strong enough in the end.

Looking back, I left a lot of energy on the penultimate descent, but that's easy to say when you're sitting wrecked on the team bus afterwards – that I shouldn't have done that, that I would have been stronger, but the guys had to ride to catch me and used their energy too.

Maybe that attack was a mistake, maybe not, but whether it would have changed much in the end, I don't know.

My team-mate Rafal Majka had another great day today, finishing 19th and taking 11 seconds back on leader Uran, proving again that he is capable of holding onto his third place overall.

Tomorrow is going to be another big day for him. In fact, every day from now on will be.

Sunday May 25, Stage 15: Valdengo – Montecampione (225km)

After my long day in the break yesterday, I was pretty tired this morning, but luckily enough we had a flat start, even if it was very fast.

It was so fast that when Rafal got something caught in his gears, we didn't risk stopping until the breakaway formed and things calmed down a bit in the bunch.

Eventually we chanced it and myself and Pawel Poljanski stopped with Rafal. Our mechanic hopped out of the car and managed to free up the gears, but as he was doing so, we got news on the radio that there were more attacks, so we spent about 8km chasing back through the cavalcade before regaining contact with the back of the peloton.

Although the break got eight minutes at one point, it started to come down as we approached the 19km first-category finishing climb and we were in one long line for the last 40km or so with the TV motorbike playing Moto GP on the front of the bunch again.

My job today was to hang in as long as possible just in case something happened to Rafal, but after yesterday's efforts my legs went with 12km to go and I had to ride to the top at my own tempo. Rafal held onto his third place overall today, but lost almost a minute to stage winner Fabio Aru of Astana who is now just 34 seconds back in fourth.

Afterwards I heard that Philip (Deignan of Team Sky) attacked the group with 10km to go and almost pulled off the stage win. It's great to see him back to his best and, hopefully, we will both get another chance to do something in the mountains next week.


When I crossed the line today the Italian TV station RAI, who produce the Giro coverage, were waiting on me as I had a go at their motorbike driver during the stage. Every day the motorbike has been sitting too close to the riders and with the front few getting shelter behind it, the speed can go up by 10kph, which is neither fair to the peloton or the breakaways.

If you're the one tucked in behind it at the front you get a lot of shelter, but the slipstreaming benefit diminishes just a few riders back, so the whole peloton are struggling to hold the wheels and I just got really pissed off with him today.

"Every day is the same," I told him. "It's not fair to the guys who are in the breakaway. You can't just pull the bunch back up to them."

Although I speak English, French and Italian, when he told me to f*** off and go home, most of what came out of my mouth after that could only be described as bad language.

My team had nobody in the break today, but the front group lost two minutes in about 15km because we were doing 70kph behind the motorbike. It wasn't fair to the teams that had riders up the road and it's been going on for weeks.

Yesterday one of the TV motorbikes hit a race marshal during the stage and we heard today that he's in an induced coma. In the end they had to go live to something else, which was probably just as well for both of us.

It's funny, every year I say I hate the rest days on Grand Tours. But on this Giro I've been looking forward to every one and I can't wait until tomorrow.

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