Tuesday 21 November 2017

Nicolas Roche diary: 'I squeezed through a gap but none of the lads could follow'

Nicolas Roche, second left, tracks Alberto Contador during yesterday’s second stage of the Volta a Catalunya. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images
Nicolas Roche, second left, tracks Alberto Contador during yesterday’s second stage of the Volta a Catalunya. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Tuesday March 22, Stage 1: Mataro to Orlot (178.7km) - Like yesterday, today's second stage of the Volta a Catalunya had a big climb in the middle but was still conducive to a mass bunch finish so our team's main goals were to keep overall contenders Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Wout Poels out of danger and close to the front and to give our sprinter Ben Swift a hand to get into position at the finish.

A four-man breakaway group went clear after 15km this morning but as soon as they got three minutes' advantage the Cofidis team of stage one winner and race leader Nacer Bouhanni hit the front of the peloton in pursuit. With a long flat finish to the stage, the French outfit were hoping for another stage victory for their fast man in Orlot.

The pursuit was a little too hot for the escapees and after only about 30km of racing they were dangling just a minute up the road, leaving the Cofidis squad with two choices; either continue the chase and reel them in early or ease up and let their advantage go out again.

A lot of the time, if a group is caught very early in the day's proceedings it simply spurs others into attack and therefore comes with the possibility that a bigger, stronger group could go clear and stay away to the finish.


Cofidis decided to err on the safe side and simply eased up and gave the lead group a little bit more space up front.

Most of the peloton were happy enough to take the opportunity to stop for a pee or go back to team cars and get bottles before the tempo increased again.

Things hotted up again on as the 10km long first-category climb of Els Angels approached after 100km.

Although there was still almost 70km to race after the summit, everybody got a bit nervous on the way up and there was a bit of pushing and manoeuvring for positioning to get over at the front of the peloton.

After cresting the climb at the front, Swifty took the descent on and went down safely with Froomey on his wheel and out of danger.

Once we got down the far side safely the lads moved out of the way and let Cofidis ride again.

Just 10km later though, a very strong headwind ensured that we were only about 40 seconds behind the breakaway, which had begun to split up, so the game of cat and mouse continued and the bunch slowed down again before finally upping the tempo again and reeling in the escapees with 18km to go.

Coming towards the finish, the wide dual carriageway saw teams drag-race each other at the front in an effort to keep their team leaders out of trouble. Vasil Kiryienka sat at the front of our squad with the rest of us tucked in behind him.

I came to the front in the last 5km or so but got squeezed over to the right-hand side of the road by other teams in the last two kilometres.

In an effort to get Froomey, 'G', and the rest of the lads around the last corner safe and sound, and get Swifty into a decent position for the final sprint, I squeezed my way back to the front in the last kilometre and a half and began to sprint flat out.

The problems with my planned lead-out though, was that I had squeezed through a pretty tight gap and none of the lads apart from Froomey could follow me, so I eased up again when I saw they weren't on my wheel.

The sprint teams lined up their men for the final gallop to the line, where Bouhanni increased his overall lead with his second stage win in as many days and the guys crossed the line towards the front.

On days like today, when nothing happens and everyone finishes safely together, you're always inclined to think that you've wasted too much energy for nothing, but then on similar days to today when there is a split in the peloton, or a crash in the finale, it nearly always works in your favour to have wasted your energy to be at the front.

When I got back to the team bus after the stage, there was a little group of Irish fans wearing leprechaun hats waiting for us.

We had a bit of a chat and they took a few photos before I boarded the bus for a two-hour transfer to Girona and a date with the mountains.

While today was a spinter's paradise, tomorrow is a completely different story.

Our first day in the high mountains takes in three first-category climbs on the way to the summit finish atop the Pyrenean ski resort of La Molina.

I know the roads well and it's going to be a tough stage.

All of the big team leaders are here: Alberto Contador, Fabio Aru, Richie Porte, Tom Dumoulin, Tejay Van Garderen and our trio of Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome and Wout Poels.

They will all want to test each tomorrow and a lot of teams will be trying to get one over on their rivals and take the race lead.

At the moment the ski slope isn't the only thing that's covered in snow, with plenty of the white stuff on the roadside, so it remains to be seen if the stage finish will be okay.

Apparently the weather is going to be good though, so it should be fine.

Volta a Catalunya, Live, Eurosport, 2.30

Irish Independent

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