Nicolas Roche: 'In hindsight, swapping bikes was a big mistake'
Vuelta a Espana Diary
Thursday September 7, Stage 18: Suances to Toribio de Liebano (169kms)
As we were due to hit a 500m long climb in the first kilometre of racing today, I think most of us were pretty happy when one of the Postobon Manzana guys punctured in the neutralised zone this morning.
Not that we like seeing people puncture, but it meant we had to wait until he returned to the peloton before racing started, allowing us over the 15pc slope without busting a gut.
Myself, Damiano Caruso and Allessandro De Marchi were very active this morning trying to pick the right breakaway as hordes of riders jumped up the road.
Having been reeled in numerous times, I was back in the peloton when a group of 15 riders opened a gap after around 45 minutes in.
When a reaction hadn't materialised within a couple of minutes, I realised my chances of escaping were gone and decided to drop back to the team car to swap bikes.
My chain had been bouncing around on the block and I wasn't sure if there was something wrong with it or my derailleur, so I opted to swap bikes rather than change my back wheel, but in hindsight it turned out to be a huge mistake.
While I drifted back, hopped off my bike at the side of the road and was handed another one off the roof rack by our mechanic, somebody attacked up front and the whole race went bananas again.
With the speed now through the roof, I spent about 15km in the cavalcade behind the peloton trying to regain contact, only doing so just as the Sky team of race leader Chris Froome spread across the road at the front, signalling their content as another group went clear; this one containing Demma and 19 others.
For a long time after that the peloton took it really easy, to the point where it got ridiculously slow and the breakaway built up a lead of 13 minutes as we trundled along behind them.
It wasn't until the first climb of the day, after 100km, that Sky upped the tempo a bit.
After the descent, the Katusha team of Ilnur Zakarin hit the front and lit things up going into the next climb, the 6km long Collada de Ozalba, so much so that five of them ending up going clear on the slope and causing panic in the peloton.
After Sky got their act together and reeled them in, ninth placed Fabio Aru attacked and split the group in half about a kilometre from the summit.
While Aru sailed down the descent on his own, I was in between two groups - one containing Froome and the top ten on GC and another containing 12th-placed Esteban Chaves and a few others, so I just waited for them to catch me and we all regrouped on the descent.
The second category Collada de la Hoz split the group again as fifth-placed Alberto Contador attacked in the first of its six kilometres.
Once again the group split under the pressure and once again I found myself alongside Chaves, as well as Frenchman Romain Bardet and one of the Sunweb guys.
I knew that if we didn't catch them on the descent, we wouldn't be seeing them again so I went to the front and took over.
With the commissaires trying to pull team cars out of the gap, the descent was pretty sketchy and we had a close call when one of the cars stopped on a corner but thankfully we all stayed upright and made it back.
While the breakaway fought out the stage win around 10 minutes ahead of us, our group were busy chasing Aru, who now held a minute lead over us as we approached the last 10km.
Having been dropped twice already, I knew I was about to explode on the 3km climb to the finish but my team-mate Tejay Van Garderen had hung onto the Froome group all day so I tried to keep him sheltered as we approached it.
Once the road went skywards though, Contador attacked, Sky countered and the whole group fell apart, with my legs doing the same.
Demma took sixth on the stage today, which is a great result but he was disappointed afterwards not to have taken a stage win after what was his sixth or seventh breakaway attempt on this Vuelta.
For me losing another minute and a half today did nothing to change my 17th place overall.
With three days to go now, I'm tired but with a sprint stage on Sunday, tomorrow is one of only two more chances to get in the breakaway, so I'm going to have to try again.
Veulta a Espana,
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