Sunday 18 March 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'It's hard to close a gap when you're already doing 65kph'

Gianluca Brambilla of Etixx-Quick Step during yesterday’s time trial stage of Giro d’Italia. The Italian held onto the pink jersey for a second day Photo: AFP/Getty
Gianluca Brambilla of Etixx-Quick Step during yesterday’s time trial stage of Giro d’Italia. The Italian held onto the pink jersey for a second day Photo: AFP/Getty

Nicolas Roche

In the past few days, much of the hubbub concerning today's stage has been about the final climb of Alpe di Poti, a 6km ascent surfaced with white sand and loose gravel.

While this strade bianchi, or white road, had been the focus of this morning's team-talk, it was a much earlier ascent - the 6km-long uncategorised climb to Assisi after just 10km - that initially tore the race apart.

With the rain bucketing down, 25 riders crashed on a corner and lopped the back off the peloton as we approached the hill.

Having avoided the carnage, my team leader Mikel Landa then punctured about a kilometre later.

Climbers David Lopez and Sebastien Henao stopped with him to pace him back onto the peloton but a massive thunderstorm on the descent split the race into six or seven groups and made their job very difficult.

As a breakaway of 13 riders pulled out of sight up front, I found myself in the third group on the road, being driven along by the Giant Alpecin squad of race leader Tom Dumoulin.


Our 50-strong group was about ten seconds behind the second group of 15 riders that included 2013 winner Vincenzo Nibali.

Behind us, Mikel and the guys had survived the descent to make contact with another big group of about 80 riders. Luckily, Alejandro Valverde, Domenico Pozzovivo and a couple of other overall contenders were in that group, so the Ag2r and Movistar teams were leading the chase.

Although there were only maybe ten seconds between the three biggest portions of the peloton, when you're pelting along at 65kph, it's very hard to find the extra 2kph needed to close the gap, so the status quo remained for the next 10km.

When Mikel's group eventually caught us, Christian Knees and David Lopez got to the front and helped bring back the Nibali group a few kilometres later.

Unfortunately for my Italian team-mate Elia Viviani though, he had been dropped on the climb and with only two others for company, our high speed chase meant the sprinter never regained contact with the peloton all day.

With Etixx Quickstep's Gianluca Brambilla up the road in the breakaway, there was no let-up when the peloton merged as the Giant Alpecin team tried to ensure the Italian didn't get the minute and 56 seconds advantage he needed to snatch the pink jersey from their leader Dumoulin.

When the escapees still had three and a half minutes as we went through the finish line in Arezzo and out onto the final 32km loop, though, the alarm bells went off and Lotto NL and Movistar both gave chase as we approached the Alpe di Poti with 26km to go.

If you'd asked me how I felt at the bottom of the climb, I would have said good. I was well placed near the front with David Lopez and the two Mikels alongside me and confident I could stay there for the duration of the climb. Four kilometres later, though, I was in trouble.

As soon as we hit the gravel surface, Valverde hit the front and put the power down. His attack split the peloton, and I tried to push to go with the seven or eight riders he dragged clear.

Soon, though, things began to go pear-shaped for me and within a few hundred metres I found myself in the second group, alongside race leader Dumoulin.

Two kilometres from the top I completely blew and drifted out the back of that group too.

With no other riders near me, I rode on my own until a group of nine caught me halfway down the descent and I stayed with them to the finish, where I crossed the line five minutes behind stage winner and new race leader Brambilla.

The fact that I just went from feeling good to feeling crap in seconds today hopefully means it was simply a fuelling issue, a case of not eating enough on the stage due to the high speeds and constant demands of the day.

While today was a disappointing day for me personally, it was a good day for the team, with Mikel Landa managing to get across to Valverde's group to finish eighth on the stage and move up to tenth overall.

Sunday May 15, Stage 9: Individual Time Trial, Chianti (40.5km)

As we made our way back to the hotel from yesterday's finish line, we came to a junction with 2km to go. Here,Elia's little group rode by.

We knew when we started the finishing circuit that our Italian sprinter was already right on the time limit of 25 minutes behind us, but he insisted on finishing the stage.

It wasn't easy to watch as he rode past alongside Iuri Filosi of Nippo Vini Fantini and Boy van Poppel of Trek, knowing that the trio were 55 minutes down and well outside the cut off point for continuing in the race.

Elia was just on a bad day yesterday and was unlucky with the way things panned out; how the bunch split and the chase continued for so long. On a normal day he would have regained contact on the descent and spent most of the day in the shelter of the peloton.

He is now out of the race, which is a pity as I think he had a real chance of taking a stage victory on one of the flatter stages.

With a 45km time trial this afternoon, myself, Mikel Landa, Mikel Nieve and Sebastian Henao spent an hour on our bikes this morning before lunch.

Afterwards we had a 45-minute drive to the start, where we arrived two hours before my departure time of 3.18.

I relaxed on the bus for a while before changing into my kit and jumping onto the turbo trainer to warm up.


Just as I sat in the saddle, the heavens opened and parts of the course became treacherous.

Time trialling is an area where I'm always trying to improve, so even though I was never going to win the stage or move up the overall classification today, I tried to do a focused ride without taking any risks in the wet corners.

Still, the roads were pretty slippery and I had one scare where my back wheel lost grip but luckily regained traction again in time to keep me upright.

I rolled across the finish in 56 minutes and three seconds, 4'18" behind stage winner Primoz Roglic of Lotto NL who had the benefit of a dry run earlier in the day.

With the team bus back at the start, I grabbed my wash bag from the carers at the finish so that I could have a shower in the local sports centre before hopping into the team car for the drive to the hotel.

On the way, I watched Mikel's ride on my phone. He put in a great performance to finish 20th and is now up to eighth overall.

He's now only a handful of seconds off the other overall contenders with his favoured terrain of the high mountains yet to come.

Irish Independent

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