Nicolas Roche: 'My gamble didn't pay off today and I missed the break'
Thursday, May 26, Stage 18: Maggio to Pinerolo (244km)
On arrival to the stage start this morning, I got a surprise visit from the brother of my former training partner Simon Clarke. He had driven an hour and a half from his home in Varese to see Simon and had brought a pair of wheels with him for me.
Considering I had left the wheels into a bike shop in Varese in 2012, when I was riding with Ag2r, I was pretty surprised to see them again even if the bike shop owner jokingly told him to ask me for four years' storage payment for them.
The longest stage of this year's Giro, today's route was flat for the most part before a sting in the tail came in the form of the Pramartino climb after 220km.
With 20 per cent gradients comparable to Patrick's Hill in Cork, the climb went on for 5km and was always going to be a decisive factor in the outcome of the stage.
We knew there was a good chance that a big breakaway could stay clear today, so in the team briefing this morning, I put my hand up for having a go to get into it. But having put a lot of effort into getting into the break on the mountain stage a few days ago - where I must have followed a hundred moves that morning but was then completely knackered on the last couple of climbs, I planned on playing it a bit cooler as we rolled out of town this morning.
I was convinced it was going to take up to an hour before the breakaway went and gambled on waiting at least half an hour into the stage before I followed any moves.
Cycling is often referred to as a game of poker on wheels but today the race called my bluff. A break of 24 riders went after 6km and we never saw them again. But at least Kneesy (Christian Knees) had made the front group.
The gap went to ten minutes and stayed stable at that until the escapees started attacking each other and it went up to 13 minutes. Although it was pretty boring in the peloton today, the three-quarter tailwind meant the speed was really high for such a long stage. I stayed beside Sebastian Henao for most of the day until the peloton began to fracture on the climb with about 20km to go and he began to struggle and told me to do my own thing.
As race leader Steven Kruijswijk's team-mate drove us to the top, I hung on at the back of the group before getting dropped a few metres from the top and regaining contact on the descent into the finish where we finished 13 minutes down on the break. Kneesy put in a solid ride to take took eighth today behind Ettix Quicktep's Matteo Trentin.
We have two really difficult mountain stages ahead of us now.
I know all the climbs from previous races, but sometimes I don't know whether that's a good or bad thing.
Giro d'Italia, Live, Eurosport 2, 1.45pm