Thursday 14 December 2017

Nicolas Roche Giro Diary: 'The final climb should have suited me well so I'm a bit disappointed'

Giro d’Italia Diary: Day Five, Taranto to Viggiano (203km)

Italy's Diego Ulissi celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the fifth stage of the Giro d'Italia
Italy's Diego Ulissi celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the fifth stage of the Giro d'Italia

Nicolas Roche

Wednesday May 14, Stage 5: Taranto to Viggiano (203km)

Today's stage saw the first uphill finish of this Giro awaiting us in Viggiano after 203km. With the final 8km-long third-category ascent also due to be tackled with 13km to go, everyone expected a bit of a shake-up in the overall standings after the stage.

An 11-man breakaway group went clear after 20km this morning but the Orica GreenEDGE team of Aussie race leader Michael Matthews did well to keep them on a relatively short leash for most of the stage, even though they didn't get much help from anybody until we reached the last 20km or so.

For my Tinkoff-Saxo team today, the plan was simply to try and get myself and co-leader Rafal Majka to the final climb in the best position possible and hope we would be able to do something at the finish.

We had a strong wind facing us for the whole stage today and every time we changed direction you could sense the tension growing in the peloton with the fear that some team might use the crosswind to try to split the bunch.

We also had a third-category climb midway through today's stage and as it started raining on the way up, my team-mates and I moved up to the back wheels of the Orica GreenEDGE squad at the front to get into a good position for the descent.


In the race manual though, the downhill section looked a lot worse than it actually was. There were a good few corners on it, but it was a pretty rolling descent and some of those corners actually went back uphill so it was safe.

With half of the breakaway group now caught, the rain lashed down as the BMC team of Cadel Evans began to hit the throttle at the front of the peloton as we hit the finishing hill for the first time.

I was a little bit further back than I would have liked at the bottom and at one of the corners, a Colombian guy got out of the saddle in front of me and went to stamp on the pedals. With the greasy road surface, his back wheel spun around and he did a cycling version of a jack-knife, landing on the road in front of me.

He almost took me down and I was forced to make a quick detour on to the grass verge along with Belkin rider Steven Kreuswick to avoid the prone climber.

At the same time but in a separate incident, there was a much bigger crash behind us and 30 or so guys came down and with half the peloton held up behind us, I suddenly I found myself just off the back of the front portion.

There was a bit of a scatter on the road with riders trying to get back on to the tail end of the peloton in front but the pace was so high that anyone who lost a wheel was gone and only eight or 10 of us made it.

The descent back around to the bottom was wet and really technical and although there were a few more crashes I was lucky enough not to be involved in any of them. The closest I got was when I heard the ominous scraping of metal on the road just behind me as I came to the second-last corner, but I knew better than to even try and look behind me.

With the front group now down to about 40 riders, Rafal and I moved up with about 3km to go as three riders from the Katusha team of Spanish climber Joaquin Rodriguez drove the group up towards the climb.

As we approached the red kite indicating the final kilometre of the race, I could hear my directeur sportif saying into my earpiece, "Come on guys, we're coming into a tailwind section, have a go." At that moment, I was moving up the left-hand side of the group and as there was a very slight stall at the front, I thought, 'Why not give it a go?'

I jumped off the front but the tailwind wasn't really there and I didn't get too far before the Katusha squad brought me to heel again. Their quick reaction split the group, with four riders edging ahead as others went past me.

I had to grit my teeth to hold on to them to the top, eventually taking 15th place on the stage, with Rafal getting fifth.

I was a bit surprised to see race leader Matthews take sixth on the stage and hold on to the pink jersey today. Matthews is better known for his sprinting ability than his climbing, so fair play to him and his team for the work they did today.

While we knew the climb today wasn't going to be that hard and probably wouldn't be very selective among the GC guys, it was a first chance to give it a shot and test the legs.

The final climb is one that should have suited me well, so in a way I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't get a better result on the stage.

My attack wasn't planned but if I'd stayed in the wheels and waited for the sprint, I might only have earned the same result anyway, who knows?

My Polish team-mate Rafal is fifth overall now and I am 11 seconds further back in seventh, 37 seconds behind race leader Matthews. But that's more down to our team's time trial performance in Belfast than our climbing skills today.

I'm getting a bit fed up with all this rain now. I could do with a bit of a heatwave.



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