Sunday 25 February 2018

Nicolas Roche - 'My legs were screaming at me to stop sprinting but I kept at it'

Kazakhstan’s Alexey Lutsenko of team Astana celebrates winning yesterday’s fifth stage. Photo: Getty Images
Kazakhstan’s Alexey Lutsenko of team Astana celebrates winning yesterday’s fifth stage. Photo: Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Wednesday, August 23 - Stage 5: Benicassim to Alcossebre (175.7km)

With a later than usual start today, we didn't have to leave the team hotel until 11am, so I had time this morning to meet up with my auntie Pam, my uncle Declan and cousins Cian and Lara for a coffee and a chat, which was nice.

They've been holidaying in this area for years and Declan always brings his bike, so he knows the roads like the back of his hand.

He was able to talk me through the day's climbs and descents, which was pretty useful as I've never ridden them before.

With a 3km uphill finish today and a ten-second time bonus for the stage winner, we expected race leader Chris Froome to go for the stage win, so my BMC team didn't even try to put anyone in the early breakaway this morning as we thought Sky would bring them all back before the finish.

Instead, 16 riders went clear after about 10km and had a three-minute advantage by the top of the first mountain, after 23km.

I thought Sky were going to keep them close enough to bring them back, but once the gap went out to seven minutes midway through the stage, I knew the stage winner would come from the break.

My team-mates did an amazing job again today in very hot conditions. We rode in team formation behind Sky and Quick-Step for most of the day, staying in the top 30 or 40 riders throughout.

Although the breakaway had built up a sufficient lead to take stage glory, all of the GC contenders knew there were still seconds to be won and lost on the final climb, so with about 20km to go the drag racing started on the run-in to the final climb.

With all of the overall contenders lined up behind them, the big teams spread across the road as we fought to be first to the climb.

Damiano Caruso and Alessandro De Marchi tore along the flat main road before Rohan Dennis and Fran Ventoso, two big, powerful guys, took over as they approached the foot of the climb.

Climb

Three minutes after the breakaway had hit the slope, Fran led the peloton on to the climb with Tejay van Garderen on his wheel.

I was squeezed out a little bit on the first corner but rounded it in about 15th place.

Having hit the 3km-long climb at a very fast pace though, we had only myself and Tejay left in the group when Fran pulled off, so there was a bit of a stall before Sky upped the pace again with their Spanish climber Mikel Nieve.

When Nieve pulled over, Gianni Moscon rode full-pelt into the final kilometre.

By that point there were maybe a dozen guys left at the front of the peloton.

I was in pain but I could see everyone around me was on the limit too.

With maybe 600m to go, Alberto Contador put the hammer down and pulled away with a little group of five containing Froome, Esteban Chaves of Orica, Michael Woods of Cannondale and Tejay.

Ilnur Zakarin let the wheel go in front of me just as Froomey went.

I didn't really care about Froomey.

I was never going to catch him anyway but I tried to pace myself off some of the other guys in the group.

I managed to ride around the Russian and claw my way back onto the wheels of Dutchman Wilco Kelderman and British climber Adam Yates.

I was expecting a little downhill with 300m to go so I sprinted to there, while Yates did the same alongside me. I think we both expected a flatter finish but there was another really steep stretch to the line for 150m after that.

I kept sprinting even though my legs were screaming at me to stop and at the summit I had lost 11 seconds and dropped to fourth overall, 13 seconds down on race leader Froomey, which wasn't too bad.

Tejay had a great ride and hung in with Froome's group until the final 200m, finishing three seconds ahead of my group and moving up to second overall, 10 seconds behind Froome.

With two riders still in the top four overall, we're in a pretty good position at the moment. Hopefully we can stay there for a while.

Vuelta a Espana,

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