Wednesday 25 April 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'It'll be hard to shift Valverde in the mountains now'

Tuesday, March 20 - Stage 2: Mataro to Valls (175.6km)

'With temperatures of -7C predicted for the top and gusts of 60kmh forecast during the stage it's going to a tough day' Stock picture
'With temperatures of -7C predicted for the top and gusts of 60kmh forecast during the stage it's going to a tough day' Stock picture

Nicolas Roche

Held on mainly big, wide roads, with a headwind blowing for much of the day, today's stage wasn't very conducive to a breakaway surviving to the finish.

Therefore, it was no surprise that my BMC team had no takers on the bus this morning when our directeur sportif asked if anyone was interested in trying to get up the road early on.

Although three riders went clear after about 10km, just as we approached the third-category climb of Port de la Font de Cera, the Quick-Step team of yesterday's stage winner and overnight race leader Alvaro Hodeg put four or five men on the front of the peloton as soon as they got three minutes.

From then on it was almost as if they resigned themselves to being caught and just played with us until they were.

Such was the strength of the headwind and the lack of enthusiasm up front that we only covered 110km in the first three hours, which at least meant I had time to chat with my cousin Dan Martin for a while before congratulating Philip Deignan on the recent announcement that he's going to be a dad for the first time this year.

Father

With an Irish Grand Tour stage winner for a father and an English world track and road race champion for a mother, Deignan Jnr is sure to be much sought after by both nations if he or she ever throws their leg over a bike, so the slagging about his or her nationality has already started and is sure to continue for a few years yet.

Today one of the race helicopters almost caused a few crashes because it was flying so close to the peloton overhead.

Apart from the fact that you can't hear anything else with the noise, the sudden gusts of wind wafting down on us any time it changed direction made things pretty dodgy.

With high-definition cameras, I don't know why it has to come so close to get a picture.

After 120km, the pace began to increase when Movistar got to the front and put everyone in the gutter in the crosswind on an uncategorised 10km drag heading towards the feed zone.

With the road narrowed by team soigneurs lining the route holding feed bags at arm's length, there were a few near-misses as we ignored our meals on wheels and flew past at around 70kmh.

Cyril Barthe of Euskadi-Murias went clear to take the three-second time bonus on offer at the intermediate sprint after 147km but Movistar sucked the rest of us across the sprint line a few seconds later with their leaders Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana stating their intent for this race by mopping up the remaining two-second and one-second bonuses shortly after.

With Barthe reeled in and Movistar still driving things at the front, we came to a huge roundabout with around 18km to go.

Having been in a good position behind the Movistar train going into the roundabout, my BMC team-mates and I soon found ourselves towards the back of the peloton as the back half of the bunch took a shortcut around the opposite side while we went the long way around.

Luckily the road was wide enough to be able to claw our way back towards the front before the last climb of the day, where Movistar upped the pace again, shelling race leader Hodeg and plenty of the sprinters out the back in the process.

Favourites

Although he might not have been one of the favourites to win a bunch sprint today, Valverde timed his run to the line perfectly to beat Daryl Impey of Mitchelton-Scott for the stage win and to become the new race leader.

The Spaniard now has at least 10 seconds over most of his main rivals and with the team he has here this week it's going to be hard to shift him in the mountains.

Like my cousin Dan, I'm currently 12 seconds down on the Spaniard.

Today is the first of what were supposed to be three very hard days, but the final climb has since been shortened due to expected bad weather.

With temperatures of -7C predicted for the top and gusts of 60kmh forecast during the stage it's going to a tough day.

While we may try and get somebody into the breakaway, I think our main aim will be to keep Tejay Van Garderen in contention for the overall classification.

Irish Independent

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