Thursday 22 March 2018

Nicolas Roche - 'I tried to get out of saddle in the last 300 metres but my legs didn't get the memo'

Nicolas Roche crosses the line yesterday after closing the gap on Vuelta leader Chris Froome
Nicolas Roche crosses the line yesterday after closing the gap on Vuelta leader Chris Froome

Nicolas Roche

Tuesday, August 29 - Stage 10: Caravaca de la Cruz to el Pozo Altimencion (164km)

A three-hour transfer from our team hotel this morning was mainly spent listening to music with my eyes closed and trying to ignore the rain that hammered off the windows of the team bus.

There is a massive storm over Spain at the moment, with Northern Spain getting the worst of it, so we knew last night that there was a good chance we'd get soaked today.

At the stage start town though, the rain had stopped and the temperature was around 24 degrees, so I signed on in a one-piece road suit.

But by the time we had our pre-stage talk out of the way and were riding to the line, the rain had caught up with us and the temperature had dropped to 15 degrees so I hurriedly rode back to the bus, grabbed an undershirt and a light rain jacket.

The rain didn't dampen the spirits of those wanting to get in the early breakaway though with a mostly declining route profile for the first half of the stage encouraging non-stop attacking and seeing us cover 106km in a blistering first two hours of racing.

It rained for an hour and a half solid, with ten minutes of that absolutely torrential.

Whipped The rain was hopping off the road in front of us and at one point it was so dark I could barely see in front of my front wheel.

Thankfully, the roads were very good and wide enough to allow everyone a bit of space in case anything happened. Because it hasn't rained in over two months here, the rain whipped up a lot of grit and dirt on the roads and there were plenty of punctures today.

I punctured my front wheel after about 15km but got a quick wheel change while Loic (Vliegen) waited for me to pace me back up.

As we rode through the cars we could see a few others stopping with the same problem.

The pace was so intense that the peloton split into about five groups when we hit the town of Lorca after 51km, where we bunny-hopped huge paved speed bumps that had collected pools of water either side of them.

Although race leader Chris Froome was with about 25 guys in the front group, I was in the second split on the road. Around me were the rest of the GC contenders, so I didn't panic as Bahrain-Merida and Cannondale closed the gap.

After 75km of flat-out racing a group of 20 riders, including my team-mate Allesandro de Marchi, finally broke the elastic and opened a gap. Once they did, the peloton downed tools for a few minutes to catch our breath as we headed towards the day's finale, which included two climbs and a sinuous 19km descent to the finish. Just 4km from the bottom of the third-category Alto de Morrion de Totana, with 34km to go, I punctured again, this time my back wheel.

Damiano Caruso stopped with me immediately and took out his back wheel to give to me but the car was there so quickly that the last I saw of him was just as I got a push-off again from our mechanic.

As the others looked after Tejay (van Garderen), Rohan Dennis and Kilian Frankiny waited for me to lead me back into the bunch but Rohan punctured halfway up and Kilian brought me to the front.

At the top of the 4km climb we turned left and hit the bottom of the 10km-long first-category Collado Bermejo.

With a 19km descent to the finish from its summit, I knew there was a good chance that Vincenzo Nibali - one of the best descenders in the peloton - would have a go on the climb so when his Bahrain-Merida team moved up to set the pace, I knew it was on. They steadily increased the tempo until Nibali attacked about 700 metres from the top while I crossed the peak in seventh position.

Having begun the day 12 seconds behind me overall, Nibali had a bit of a gap so I knew I had to give it a go to bring him back.

The descent was really twisty, with lots of hairpins sashaying from left to right and back again. Partial tree cover meant the road went from dry to wet in patches, with loose pine needles from the trees also adding to the danger.

I took a few risks to get by the other GC contenders and almost came down before making my way across to him with 15km left. I looked back and saw that some of the guys in the top 10 were off the back of the group. Just after I caught him, there was a short rise. I knew was safer at the front and also less likely to lose time in a split so I just kept going and passed the TV motorbike on a corner.

On the next bend I passed Niki Terpstra, who had been in the break, and continued to ride hard.

With no TV coverage of me, the guys in the team car didn't know I had gone clear and I could hear them in my earpiece encouraging Tejay and I to stay in contact with the group behind me.

excited It wasn't until about 3km to go that they found out I was up the road and started to get excited.

"Come on Nico! 30 seconds!"

I knew I was very close to leapfrogging Esteban Chaves into second overall, but the last kilometre felt horrible.

With 300 metres to go, I tried to get up out of the saddle to sprint for an extra few seconds but my legs didn't get the memo and I stayed seated to the finish line.

I had emptied the tank but had no idea how much time I had gained on the group behind. I sailed past the team soigneurs in an effort to catch my breath before turning around to be told I had gained 29 seconds. I'm still third overall but have almost halved my deficit to race leader Froome. I'm now 36 seconds back, on equal time as second-placed Chaves.

Today was a nice surprise but there's a lot of racing to be done yet.

Vuelta a Espana,

Live, Eurosport 2, 2.0

Irish Independent

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