Tuesday 20 February 2018

Nicolas Roche Diary: 'For me, abandoning a race is not the best way to end the season'

Sunday, October 6, Tour of Lombardy – Bergamo to Lecco 251km

Joaquin Rodriguez celebrates on the podium after winning the Tour of Lombardy yesterday. The Spaniard bounced back from a stinging defeat in last weekend's World Championships to successfully defend his title
Joaquin Rodriguez celebrates on the podium after winning the Tour of Lombardy yesterday. The Spaniard bounced back from a stinging defeat in last weekend's World Championships to successfully defend his title

Nicolas Roche

The Tour of Lombardy is the last one-day Classic on the WorldTour calendar and my last race of the season. Although I've had a great end of season, I began today's 'race of the falling leaves' with 94 days of racing in my legs.

I've been trying to cling onto my recent good form until today but after crashing out of last Sunday's world championships in the rain, the last few days of training have told me the zip is gone and the fatigue is beginning to set in.

My young Polish team-mate Rafal Majka, however, is in really good form at the moment and our attitudes at the breakfast table this morning probably summed up the difference between us. Rafal was like a canary whose cage had just been uncovered to let the light in, smiling and chirping his way through breakfast as I sat there with heavy eyelids, yawning.

"Rafal, I'm not even awake yet. What are you so happy about?"

"Well, it's not raining and even if it does rain, I can't do anything about it anyway, so I've just decided I'm going to be happy all day!"

Having done lot of work to help me finish fifth overall at the Vuelta, Rafal's second place in Milan-Turin on Wednesday confirmed he has recovered well from the three-week tour and meant that along with my team leader Alberto Contador, he would be one of the protected riders today.

One of the things I really like about Saxo-Tinkoff is the fact that whoever is going well on the day gets the full support of everybody else, so today was my turn to row in behind the guys and do my bit for the team.


In the early kilometres we tried to make sure no big groups got away and the first real move came at the foot of the 15km ascent of Valico di Valcava, after 65km, where six riders went clear.

While the Francaise de Jeux team began to ride tempo at the head of the peloton, I was a bit nervous ahead of the long, wet descent, so I went to the front and set the tempo on the way down before drifting back into the wheels for shelter as we rode through the first feed zone after 100km.

With the escapees only a minute ahead of us as we approached the 8km climb of Colle Brianza after 118km, my team were having a bit of trouble chasing every attack, so I latched onto a little group and eventually got across to a new front group of 21 riders, which also contained my team-mate Sergio Paulinho.

We weren't going flat out but everybody was riding through and we opened a one-minute lead pretty quickly. With some strong riders in the break and the gap growing, there was a possibility some of those could stay away to the finish and ruin our chances of victory, so my team went to the front and helped Francaise de Jeux and Garmin-Sharp chase behind us.

After about 20km out front, I eased up as we approached the steepest climb of the day, the Colma di Sormano and waited, slotting in behind my Danish team-mate Matti Breschel at the head of the chase. My Aussie team-mate Michael Rogers told me to take a breather but I could see that he was a lot stronger than I was, so I told him to let me ride so that he'd be able to save himself to help Rafal nearer the finish.

When Michael took over near the top, the pace went up. I slid back through the group and noticed Alberto was in trouble and going out the back door. The climb was so steep that I just rode it at my own pace with Alberto on my wheel before chasing hard down the descent and along the valley.

Luckily for us, 2012 world champion Philippe Gilbert had been dropped too and Greg Van Avermaet was trying to get him back on. Taking turns on the front, myself and Van Avermaet flew through the second feed zone and we regained contact with the front group just before the Madonna del Ghisallo.

I was hoping to be able to give a hand on the Ghisallo but once we hit the steep part of the climb, the pace went up again. I stamped on the pedals in an effort to hang on but the pain in my quads told me I was wasting my time. I was dropped and abandoned the race with 50km to go.

Rafal, who finished third, was delighted and said he was relieved to get a podium placing after all the work the team had done earlier.

For me, abandoning a race is not the best way to end the season but I can take some comfort from the fact that I did my bit earlier in the race and I've only abandoned three times this year and one of those was crash-induced.

Although the season is just over, I'll be back at pre-season training camp on November 20. Some riders like to spend a week or two on the beach at the end of the season but, between training camps and races, I've only spent 15 days at home in the past four months, so I'll be spending my holidays on my own sofa.

I hope to see some of you in Tayto Park for the Nicolas Roche Classic on October 19 and at Cycling Ireland's 25th anniversary dinner in Dublin on November 2, but for now I'm looking forward to going home.

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