Wednesday 17 January 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'I was hoping to get a bigger gap but the bunch had the upper hand'

Catalunya diary

French rider Nacer Bouhanni winds up for the sprint finish on the first stage of the Volta a Catalunya into Calella yesterday. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images
French rider Nacer Bouhanni winds up for the sprint finish on the first stage of the Volta a Catalunya into Calella yesterday. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Monday March 21, Stage 1: Calella to Calella (185.2km)

I was due to fly to Spain for the Volta a Catalunya at 6.30 yesterday evening, but the French air traffic controllers' strike saw me spend three hours more in Nice airport than originally planned.

After a one-hour flight and another hour's drive to the team hotel in Calella , I arrived alongside team-mates Geraint Thomas, Ben Swift, Ian Boswell and Chris Froome at 12.30 last night.

A one o'clock start today though gave us all plenty of time to recover and even I managed to stay asleep until 8.30 this morning, which is something of a miracle for me.

With our hotel handily placed right beside today's start and finish area, we strolled to the start where the teams were presented to the crowd before the stage.

Afterwards we still had time to board the team bus for the daily pre-stage meeting before lining up for the start.

Wary of a repeat of last year's opening stage, where a decent sized group took a big lead early on and were never caught despite our best efforts, we knew we might have to take up the chase if nobody else did.

Thankfully though, when the early escapees got around four minutes advantage, the Cofidis team of French sprinter Nacer Bouhanni went to the front of the peloton and set about bringing them back.

Although there were five climbs today, the last big one came around 40km from the finish so they knew Bouhanni had a great chance of winning the stage if they could bring the race back together in time for a bunch sprint finale.

With rain forecast up ahead, Boz went back to the team car for our rain jackets in the feed zone after 105km and by the time we hit the first category Col de Formic five kilometres later, we needed them to stave off the downpour.

We moved to the front of the peloton near the top to avoid any trouble on the wet descent. Myself and Vasil Kiryienka led over the summit and set a steady but safe pace on the way down the other side. We obviously weren't going fast enough for Movistar duo Nairo Quintana and Jose Herrada though and they overtook us halfway down the descent and put on a bit of pressure.


It was so slippery that the guy on the TV motorbike ahead of us was taking no chances and Herrada nearly ran into him a few times on the corners.

In previous years we've had a pretty flat run from the bottom of the descent to the finish 55km away but today we turned left three quarter way down and went up the steep second category climb Alt de Montseney, which whittled the bunch down to around 80 riders.

With the intermediate sprint coming at the bottom of that descent and only 20km to go, there was a bit of pushing and shoving in the bunch as the overall contenders tried to get themselves into position to snatch a few bonus seconds off each other.

There were four or five corners going into the sprint though and with one rider still clear up ahead, none of them could get around the two Movistar guys who were leading the chase and crossed the line in second and third place.

Afterwards there was a bit of a stall which enticed a few more riders to go clear before Kiry and Boz went to the front and set the tempo on the last climb of the day 15km from home.

Just at the top, as teams were coming around us, I accelerated to get around Kiry and give him a bit of a breather at the beginning of the descent before he and Boz took over again on the run in.

Then, with 5km to go, we came around a corner and hit a drag. Two or three guys had attacked so feeling good, I turned to 'G' and asked if I could give it a go.

"Yeah, why not?' was his reply.

I jumped away at the bottom of the drag and as my team-mates eased up at the front of the peloton I was hoping there would be a bit of stall behind me and I could get enough of a gap to give me a good chance of staying clear to the finish.

I had about 11 seconds at the top but once we hit the downhill and a bit of a headwind, the bunch had the upper hand.

I didn't want to look back too much so I just kept going, riding as hard as I could until they caught me, just as we went under the one-kilometre-to-go barrier.

'G' gave Swifty a hand to get into position for the sprint and he took second on the stage behind Bouhanni.

After a good Paris-Nice and second place in Milan-San Remo yesterday, Swifty really deserves a big win soon. With a slightly uphill finish tomorrow he will get another chance pretty soon.

Volta a Catalunya

Live Eurosport 1, 2.30

Irish Independent

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