Thursday 14 December 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'Froome had broken bone in his foot. He was out of the race'

Trek’s Dutch cyclist Danny Van Poppel celebrates (C) winning the 12th Stage of the Vuelta
Trek’s Dutch cyclist Danny Van Poppel celebrates (C) winning the 12th Stage of the Vuelta

Nicolas Roche Vuelta Diary

Thursday, September 3, Stage 12: Andorra to Lleida (173km)

After a pretty bad day yesterday, the team bus spent an extra hour at the finish yesterday, with our team doctor busy patching up myself Sergio Henao and Chris Froome after our respective crashes.

While Sergio and I had both fallen the day before, Froomey had crashed very early in the stage and despite continuing to finish what was a very tough mountain stage, he was in obvious pain and actually hobbled onto the bus afterwards, unable to put weight on his right foot and went to hospital for an X-ray as the rest of us left for the transfer to our next hotel.

After losing 14 minutes yesterday and all hopes of a high overall finish on this Vuelta, my head was down for much of the evening but it's amazing the little things that can pick you up.

Knowing that we hadn't had a particularly good day, our team chef Henrik made us a chocolate brownie for dessert and we were allowed a glass of wine with dinner, while a chat with Debbie afterwards and a phone call from my dad also lifted my morale a little bit.

Froomey's visit to hospital revealed nothing but continuing pain overnight saw him up early again this morning for an MRI, which showed a broken bone in his foot.

At around 10.0 we were told the bad news. He was out of the Vuelta.


With a week and a half still to go though, we were reminded in the team briefing that we had to try and keep focused this morning. Our Basque rider Mikel Nieve is up to eighth overall, we are leading the team classification and there are still plenty of stages up for grabs before Madrid on Sunday week.

As it had rained earlier, I went to the start line this morning fully kitted out with an undervest and arm warmers on and a rain cape tucked into my back pocket.

But in the few minutes it took us to negotiate the 10km neutralised section out of Andorra, the sun came out so I dropped back to the team car and dumped all the extra layers in the window before we started racing.

With a good chance of a bunch sprint finish in Lleida this afternoon, we knew the teams with sprinters left in the race, like Giant Alpecin and Trek Factory Racing, might want to control things early on and, if that was the case, there would be no point in any of us trying to get into the early breakaway unless it was a really big group.

With the second-category Coll de Boixols coming after 35km we also didn't want to lose too much energy before that, as anything could have happened on the climb itself.

There were a few attacks from the gun and a five-man breakaway had gone clear after about 15km.

There was no real down time in the bunch though, with Giant giving them just a couple of minutes' lead before the climb.

Instead of giving them a big gap and then having to ride hard on the climb itself, Giant kept them on a short leash and then took the climb pretty steadily, saving their legs as the lead stretched out to five minutes, before going after them on the long descent and flat run in to the finish.

The pace was quite controlled on the 14km climb but while I expected to feel a lot better today, I suffered a bit and spent most of the stage at the back of the bunch, while the rest of the guys stayed with Mikel as much as possible.

In a bit of a grumpy humour today, I wasn't in the mood for talking and rode much of the stage in self-imposed solitary confinement.

Any time the road went up, I employed the age-old tactic of moving to the front before the gradient steepened so that I would still be in contact with the back of the peloton by the time we got to the top.

After a technical enough descent, crosswinds on the way down saw the bunch split a few times before coming back together at the bottom, with about 80km to go.

Although the Lampre squad joined Giant and Trek in the chase later on, the breakaways were pretty strong and still had two minutes' advantage with 20km to go.

We spent much of that last 20km on a long flat straight road with the break dangling in front of us but Trek were forced to lay off the front for a few minutes when their sprinter Danny van Poppel punctured in the last 11km and for a while it looked like the five out front would take stage glory.

The finish itself was hard though, with two little ramps to the line in the last kilometre and the two remaining outliers were caught with just 300 metres to go as Van Poppel recovered to sprint to his biggest ever victory.

Having lost 14 minutes yesterday, I wasn't too worried about time splits today and finished in the rear end of the bunch, losing a further 27 seconds.

Tomorrow is another very hilly stage, although it finishes on the flat in Tarazona. Unless I start feeling a bit better than I have the past couple of days, it will be another day to get through and hopefully recover a bit so that I can do something later in the race.

Vuelta a Espana

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