Sunday 18 February 2018

Nicholas Roche: 'I saved my legs for the final push'

Stage 17: Sarnonico to Vittorio Veneto (208km)

Cyclists pedal during the 17th stage of the Giro d' Italia cycling race from Sarnonico to Vittorio Veneto, Italy. (AP Photo/Fabio Ferrari)
Cyclists pedal during the 17th stage of the Giro d' Italia cycling race from Sarnonico to Vittorio Veneto, Italy. (AP Photo/Fabio Ferrari)

Nicolas Roche

Of the five stages left on this Giro as we rolled out of the start in Sarnonico this morning, today was the best hope of a breakaway group staying clear to contest the finish.

Tomorrow and Saturday bring two seriously hard mountain stages with summit finishes, Friday's is a mountain time trial while Sunday's final flat stage into Trieste should end in a bunch sprint.

For anyone a bit further down the classification, today's undulating stage to Vittorio Veneto was probably their last chance to get up the road and win a stage.

Sometimes I think it would be easier to go around all the teams on a morning like this morning, pick a lowly placed rider from each one and say 'okay, you can go up the road'.

At least that would save us from the opening 90km of eyeballs-out attacking that we had today. As usual, groups surged up the road straight away but were brought back because they either had somebody deemed a threat to the overall in them, or a team with nobody in the move didn't want to let the break go until they had someone in it.


We started off on a descent today, which ensured the speed was high from the start – the problem was that it stayed high for almost 90km and just under two hours, until a 26-man move with the right composition finally surged clear.

I could feel the payback for yesterday's snow-filled stage in my legs this morning but on a day like yesterday it didn't matter where you sat in the bunch, it was going to hurt, so most of the peloton were probably feeling the same.

While I was told to ignore the moves and try and recover in time to help my team-mate Rafal Majka on tomorrow's mountain epic, the younger guys on the team, Chris Juul-Jensen and Jay McCarthy, tried to get away this morning.

Our young Aussie rider Jay spent most of the opening hour and a half either trying to jump into the right move or trying to catch his breath after being reeled in. As he gasped for breath after one of those efforts, Jay drifted back down the peloton beside me. He was thinking of giving up but I persuaded him to keep trying.

"C'mon Jay, this is a great opportunity for you," I said.

Half an hour later, he was up the road in the group of 26 riders and so was my Russian team-mate Evgeny Petrov and Philip Deignan from Sky.

With most of the teams represented and happy with the make-up of the lead group, the gap slowly went up and they had opened a lead of 15 minutes by the finish.

Although they created a huge gap, the Movistar team of race leader Nairo Quintana were smart enough to keep riding steadily to the finish.

It started raining in the last 30km or so and the roads were slippery again but thankfully everyone was intelligent enough to ride gingerly down the descent off the little fourth-category climb near the finish.

With the breakaways chasing a stage win, though, the pace up front meant there were three crashes in the front group in the last 20km or so.

On one of the corners of the descent, Simon Geschke of Giant-Shimano slid off on a bend in the break and when his team car pulled in at the edge of the road behind him, the roadside gave way and the car slid down into the ditch. When we came past it looked like they had lost control and crashed.

The pace increased in the peloton in the last 10km or so as the Ag2r team hit the front to defend their lead in the team classification. The team classification is taken on the times of the first three riders from each team every day and as their nearest rivals Omega Pharma Quickstep had two men in the break, they would claw back 30 minutes on Ag2r today.

With all of the points towards the green jersey being mopped up by the leading 26 riders, the bunch sprint wasn't contested today, although I didn't see much of it as I was too far back trying to save my legs.

At the team bus I found out that Jay had finished third on the stage, which is a great result for him and a nice reward for all of the hard work he has done for the team in his first Grand Tour. The first thing he said to me when I got onto the bus was "Thanks for the bit of motivation."

My young Polish team-mate Rafal Majka is now fifth overall with four stages left. He is two seconds off fourth-placed Pierre Rolland of Europcar, just seven seconds off third-placed Cadel Evans of BMC and is therefore on the doorstep of his first podium finish on a Grand Tour.

I've had my two shots at going in the breakaway already on this Giro and now it's going to be really important to try and help Rafal.

Our road captain Michael Rogers has been able to support Rafal on the final climbs so far so my job will probably be to ride on the front earlier on the climbs if needs be, to keep Michael as fresh as possible so that we can get Rafal onto the podium in Trieste on Sunday.

Hopefully by trying to recover as much as possible and save my legs today, I'll be able to do just that in the coming mountain stages.


Irish Independent

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