Nicolas Roche: 'It's a great feeling to win my third Grand Tour stage'
Saturday August 19, Stage 1: Team Time trial : Nimes (13.7km) With two World team time trial championship titles in the last three years, my BMC team went into this evening's race against the clock confident that if everything went right for us we would be in the shake-up for stage victory.
Although every team has nine riders here, in a team time trial the clock stops on the fifth rider across the line.
Because the 13.7km circuit was so technical in the second half, we agreed - after two recon laps this afternoon - that we'd be a lot quicker going through those corners with six riders rather than the full, nine-man team.
Sprinter Fran Ventoso and our Grand Tour debutants Loic Vliegen and Kilian Frankiny were asked to pull as hard as they could in the first part of the stage and not to worry about being there for the technical finale.
Lots of tight corners meant that being smooth out of them would be very important.
Flying out of them and forcing the last few guys in the line to work harder to chase wheels would just tire everyone out quicker and break the rhythm of the team.
Personally, I prefer long, straight time trials like the national championships - where you go down the road, turn around and go back in the opposite direction.
I've always done okay in those type of tests, but for some reason I don't seem to be able to throw my time trial bike around as easily as my road bike.
I struggled a few times on the corners and could only envy some of my team-mates as they seemed to be taking the perfect line out of every one.
It was a pretty intense stage and while I could hear our directeur sportif telling the guys to pull out in my earpiece, it went by so quickly that I don't remember exactly when they sat up.
Our tactic worked though and we crossed the line with six riders in a time of 15 minutes and 58 seconds, the fastest team at the time.
As provisional leaders, we then had to sit in the hot seats and watch the remaining squads try to beat us.
Team Sky had us pretty worried with a kilometre to go, as it looked like they might do it, but when they finished six seconds slower we knew we had won the stage.
We had a 200-metre walk to the podium for the award ceremony, where, having led us over the finish line, our Aussie strongman Rohan Dennis donned the first red jersey as race leader of this Vuelta, while I was awarded the polka dot jersey of mountains leader, having crested the only hill on the course in front.
For Loic and Kilian I can see it hasn't really sunk in yet.
They don't know how lucky they are to have won a Grand Tour stage on their very first day.
After seven other Vueltas and 148 stages, I know how hard it is to win one and it's a great feeling to get my third career Grand Tour stage win here.
The only downer afterwards was that because of the podium presentations, media interviews and different massage slots, we had to eat in separate little groups tonight and there was no celebratory bottle of champagne to share together. Myself, Damiano Caruso and Daniel Oss improvised with a beer at our table instead.
The late stage start this evening meant it's been a very long day, but in the end everything happened so quickly that it hasn't been long enough.
Sunday August 20, Nimes to Gruissan (203km)
A long, flat stage along the coast of Southern France into Spain, today was one of the strangest I've had in any Grand Tour.
As we held all of the leaders jerseys on this Vuelta this morning, Rohan (red), Alessandro (green), Daniel (white) and I (polka-dot) were called to the front of the peloton for photos before the start this morning in Nimes and when things kicked off we were happy we were up there.
Predicted north-westerly winds of 35kph and stronger 50kph gusts saw the stage begin with all of the top teams nervously riding at the front and the speed increasing like a drag race.
After just 25km the peloton had split in three and although the bunch came back together again a few kilometres later, the drag race continued for the whole stage with no breakaway group getting clear early on.
I was expecting something to happen all day and was alert and right up at the front until we hit a roundabout with around 3km to go. I took the wrong line in the chicane out of it and lost a few places.
As luck would have it, it was here that Quickstep blew the race apart in the crosswind and only Daniel made it into the 10-man front group from our team.
With Rohan dropped and the race lead on the line, Daniel was forced to chase eventual stage winner Yves Lampaert of Quickstep when he went clear in the final kilometre, while I was cursing myself in another split a few seconds back.
'F***ing hell Nico!"
I was angry with myself.
With a bunch sprint on the cards, I thought I was safe in the top 25 or 30 riders inside the last 3km, but soon guys were letting wheels go left, right and centre and I suddenly found myself in the fourth group on the road.
There were only a couple of seconds between each group, but when these were added up at the line I had far too easily given away 17 seconds, dropping to fifth overall, and was really disappointed after the finish.
Maybe it won't make any difference in a couple of weeks' time, but on principle alone I should have been up there today.
Our race leader Rohan was caught out too and lost his red jersey to Lampaert, due to the 10-second time bonus he got for winning the stage.
Daniel is now our best placed rider in third overall and held on to his white jersey of combined classification leader.
On the podium afterwards I took some consolation from the fact that today's stage contained no mountains so I held on to my polka dot jersey of best climber for another day.
Tomorrow we head to Andorra and have two first category climbs and a second category on the way.
That's another story.