Sunday 15 September 2019

Nicolas Roche: 'For a long time today I was in the red in more ways than one'

Vuelta a Espana diary

Race leader Miguel Angel Lopez. Photo: Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty Images
Race leader Miguel Angel Lopez. Photo: Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Wednesday, August 27 – Stage 5: L’Eliana to Javalambre Astrophysics Observatory  (171km)

Having spent three days as race leader of this Vuelta, Spanish newspaper ‘La Marca’ came to my team hotel last night to do a feature on me.

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Playing on the stereotypical Irish angle, their photographer asked me if I would pose with a Guinness while reading a copy of the popular paper. I told him I would oblige if they let me drink it afterwards, so that was a nice little bonus after dinner.

This morning most of the questions from the media were about whether or not today would be my last day in the red jersey.

Heading into the first summit finish of this Vuelta with just a two-second lead over Nairo Quintana and with a handful of others also within half a minute, the truth was I didn’t fancy my chances but I wanted to fight as hard as I could to hold on to it.

To give myself a chance on the last climb I wanted the rest of the day – which included 4,000m of climbing – to be as easy as possible, so when three guys went clear after 11km, we let them at it and just set a steady tempo on the front of the peloton.

Even though the breakaway got 10 minutes at one stage, there was nobody of danger in the move and we had no intention of trying to bring them back.

Max Walscheid, Nikias Arndt, Rob Power and Michael Storer did a lot of the work for the first part of the stage. The only respite they got was when the UAE team came up to help them for about 10 minutes before changing their minds and easing back into the shelter of the bunch.

But the guys did a great job later on too, especially in the last 25km where we went from a three-lane road to a very narrow lane heading towards the summit finish.

Max and Casper Pedersen got myself and Wilco Kelderman into a great position going on to the 11km-long climb to the finish and Nikias kept us up there for the first three kilometres or so.

After that Martijn Tusveld, complete with a swollen and bruised face after his crash yesterday, stayed with me until 6km to go, where Hugh Carthy of Education-First really put the hammer down.

I was suffering under the pressure of his tempo and was hoping he’d run out of steam. When I glanced behind to see how many were left in the group, I was glad to see there were only around a dozen still hanging on.

There’s nothing worse than feeling bad on a climb and realising nobody has been dropped yet. When Alejandro Valverde attacked with 4km to go, our group split under the pressure and as my nearest rival Quintana floated a few metres up the road, I found myself with two more Colombian climbers, Rigoberto Uran and Esteban Chaves, and Rafal Majka of Poland.

When Chaves accelerated 2.5km from the top, I got dropped just before Uran lost contact.


With Uran dangling just a few metres ahead of me, I really focused on getting back on to him.  I was making inroads for a while but the last two kilometres were never-ending. Both of us were really struggling and for a long time I was in the red in more ways than one.

As Miguel Angel Lopez of Astana attacked the group ahead and rode into my red jersey, I blew up in the final kilometre and Pierre Latour of Ag2r, who had been dropped earlier, caught me and put 12 seconds into me in the last 600 metres.

As Angel Madrazo of the second division Burgos BH team took the stage win ahead of the two other original escapees, I crossed the line in 14th place, a minute and a half behind new race leader Lopez.

I also lost some time to Quintana, Uran, Valverde and Primoz Roglic so I’m down to fifth overall, 57 seconds off the lead.

Today I went pretty deep, trying to limit my losses, but unfortunately I cracked in the last kilometre and gave away a bit more time than I wanted to.

I gave everything I had and if you look at the calibre of the guys in front they are all world-class climbers.

I’ve enjoyed my few days in the race lead and my team-mates did a fantastic job to help me hold onto it for as long as I did. The next two days are very hard again so I’ll just take it day by day and see how far I can go.

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