Saturday 20 July 2019

Nicolas Roche: 'Rohan rode like a machine to take red in the time trial'

Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde celebrates his stage win at Ardales in the
Vuelta A Espana yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde celebrates his stage win at Ardales in the Vuelta A Espana yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Saturday, August 25, Stage 1: Individual Time Trial - Malaga (8km)

The Vuelta a Espana is my favourite race of the year.

Firstly, the three-week Spanish Grand Tour starts in August - which is when I usually come into good form.

The weather is always good and the shorter, punchier climbs seem to suit me a lot better than those at the Tour de France or the Giro.

It's no coincidence that I've had three stage wins and a best placing of fifth overall at the Vuelta over the years.

My Vuelta record would usually see me guaranteed a place on the team each year but a dismal early season that included abandoning the Giro d'Italia in May and not racing again until the Tour of Poland last month - where I pulled out due to gastroenteritis - meant my place was in jeopardy this year.

Thankfully, the team delayed their selection long enough for a decent ride and fifth place overall at the Arctic Tour of Norway to persuade them to take a chance on me and I'm grateful for the opportunity to be on the start line for stage one in Malaga today.

We've been here since last Wednesday; eating, resting and training while the rest of our hotel's all-you-can-eat clientele have been wandering around in their swimwear and wristbands, helping themselves to the free bar.

Today's opening time trial was a decent blow-out for me - a solid ride but nothing special.

I expected to complete the 8km test around 30 seconds slower than the winner and after finding that I couldn't push as big a gear as I usually would on a stage like this, I ended up in 43rd place, 35 seconds slower than my team-mate and stage winner Rohan Dennis.

A time trial specialist and former world hour record holder, today was one of Rohan's big targets.

Having finished my race, I watched his ride on TV and he looked like a machine. He's just so good at pacing himself and getting the best out of himself in these races against the clock.

Having taken the pink jersey after the opening time trial at the Giro in May, he now has the red jersey of race leader here at the Vuelta and is a very happy camper.

Sunday, August 26, Stage 2:

Marbella to Camenito del Rey (164km)

Although the mercury has been hovering around a scorching 30 degrees at our base in Malaga the past few days, it notched up a few more degrees today as soon as we went inland and away from the cooling sea breeze.

The further we rode, the less greenery there was around us and the more parched and burnt-looking the surroundings got - a constant reminder to take on a lot of fluids throughout the day.

I went back to the car three times today and as we all drank over a dozen bottles, I wasn't the only one.

With Rohan in the red jersey of race leader, my BMC team-mate Fran Ventoso spent most of the stage on the front of the peloton, trying to limit the advantage of a seven-man escape group that had gone clear.

With about 80km to go we began a loop which contained two 6km ascents of the Alto de Guadalhorce and the 5km long Alto de Ardales, both of which were third-category climbs.

Although we knew there was a good chance that second-placed Michal Kwiatkowski of Sky would beat Rohan on the finishing climb and take the race lead, we also wanted to give our young rider Dylan Teuns a chance to win the stage on a finish that suited him.

Unfortunately, as Sky drove the pace up the last climb, Dylan punctured out of the reduced peloton with around 10km to go and he never got his chance.

By then, Richie (Porte) had punctured twice and both he and Rohan were out the back in a big group and losing time hand-over-fist, leaving myself, Brent Bookwalter and Demma (Alessandro De Marchi) up front.

I spent a lot of energy on the narrow climb, trying to stay near the front for the finish, only to be swamped when the road widened in the final kilometre.

When stage winner Alejandro Valverde attacked, I ran out of steam with around 500 metres to go and finished just off the back of the group in 27th place. I'm a bit disappointed, but I think it's going to take me a few days to ride myself in here.

In previous Vueltas, I've been flying in the opening week only to unravel in the closing stages.

This time around, I'm coming in with less racing, so I'm hoping that means I'll be a bit fresher and able to ride myself in over the first week or so, but to be honest I've never been in this situation before so I'm riding into the unknown.

Vuelta a Espana,

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