Nicolas Roche: 'I followed the next two riders to attack but I was shut down by Valverde'
Thursday, August 27, Stage 6: Cordoba to Sierra de Cazorla (200.3kms)
With plans made and each rider given their task for today's stage on the team bus this morning, we then had a look at the steep little hill we were due to finish on.
Although we were all aware that the climb began with 3km to go, it's nice to be able to see a video or photo beforehand. You might not be able to tell how steep a climb is from a picture but you can see how narrow the street is, what the corners are like and pick out a landmark where the guys tell you it gets steeper or flattens out a little.
The pace itself was absolutely flat out this morning as we left Cordoba on big wide roads that enticed attacks from groups of all shapes and sizes.
For us, the frantic first hour and a half meant we had to be alert and follow any of the bigger, more dangerous-looking moves, as we didn't want a group of 20 riders to suddenly disappear up the road.
With the road so wide, it was very hard for one team to control things and while I found myself in a couple of groups of 30 or 40 riders in the first 50km, any time there was a brief stall another wave would come from the peloton behind and form a new breakaway.
This went on for about 70km until a six-man escape finally broke the elastic and went clear, building up a five-minute lead before the Giant Alpecin team of Dutch race leader Tom Dumoulin began to bring the gap down.
The Spanish Movistar squad joined the chase on the third-category climb of Alto de Baeza after 145km while my Sky team-mates and I did our usual thing of sticking together near the front as the pace went up.
With the temperature over 38 degrees for most of the day, my German team-mate Christian Knees, as usual, did a fantastic job to keep us hydrated.
While most of us grab a couple of bottles to stick into our bike cages and four or five to stuff under our jersey whenever we go back to the team car, Kneesy takes bottle-carrying to a whole new level.
Despite the fact that each bottle is an extra kilo to be carried on the way back up to the front, Kneesy amazes me each time he pulls up alongside us with about 15 bottles stuffed up the front of his jersey, rammed down the back and even squashed into the sides. I'm just waiting for the day his jersey explodes and he has to ride the rest of the stage topless.
With all but one of the escapes brought to heel on a little kicker with about 5km to go, we descended towards the final climb at 70kph before diving into a left-hander where the road began to rise with three kilometres remaining.
Steve Cummings of MTN Qhubeka still had a 17-second lead as the Orica GreenEdge team led second-placed Esteban Chaves and the rest of us into the bend with Froomey, Mikel Nieve, Sergio Henao and myself all in a decent position.
When Chaves attacked on a really steep section 500 metres later, the little Colombian passed Cummings as if the Merseysider was stopped while one of the Giant Alpecin guys tried to drag race leader Dumoulin and the rest of us back into contention.
There was a bit of a stall with 2km to go as the gradient eased off and Dumoulin seized the chance to jump after his nearest rival.
I followed the next two riders to attack but was immediately shut down by fifth-placed Alejandro Valverde of Movistar.
The resulting stall however saw my cousin Dan Martin jump away on the right-hand side of the road, ride across to Dumoulin and pass him for second on the stage, five seconds behind winner Chaves.
I tried to get clear again with about 800m to go but was closed down by Valverde again before following the wheels to the line and taking tenth on the stage, three places behind Froomey.
Chaves took back the race lead today and now has 10 seconds to spare over Dumoulin, while a four-second time bonus for second on the stage saw Dan leapfrog me into third place overall.
With Froomey (7th), Mikel Nieve (11th) and Sergio Henao (15th) all in the top 15 overall at this point, we've shown ourselves to be pretty strong as a team on these kinds of finishes so we are all looking forward to seeing how we fare on the bigger, longer climbs to come.
We won't have to wait long to find out, as tomorrow we finish at the summit of the 18km long first-category Alto de Capileira.
La Vuelta, Live, Eurosport/TG4 3.00pm