Sunday 21 January 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'See the finish line? It was so foggy I couldn't even see my front wheel'

Italian cyclist Alessandro de Marchi celebrates in the mist after winning the 14th stage of the Vuelta on Saturday
Italian cyclist Alessandro de Marchi celebrates in the mist after winning the 14th stage of the Vuelta on Saturday

Nicolas Roche: Vuelta A Espana Diary

Saturday, September 5 - Stage 14: Vitoria to Fuente del Chivo (215km)

Already 215km, the longest stage of this year's Vuelta was made even longer this morning when they added a 15km neutralised section before racing proper began.

Our goal today was simple enough: try to get somebody in the early breakaway before looking after our best-placed rider, Mikel Nieve, who began the day in eighth.

On the bus, we were told that the steep twisting nature of the final climb meant that if somebody got into a position to go for the stage win, they wouldn't be able to see the finish line until the last 150 metres.

Getting somebody in the early breakaway, though, has become a tough task on this Vuelta. As we are leading the team classification at the moment and the Spanish Movistar team are second overall, the early skirmishes have become a bit of a game between us.

With the team's time taken on the first three riders across the line each day, having two riders in a breakaway that gains five minutes suddenly gives you a ten-minute lead, so every time we put somebody in the break, they try to do the same and vice versa, which makes things quite complicated.

After being in the break yesterday, I wasn't doing much attacking this morning and was simply trying to get through the early part of the stage so that I could get to the last climb in the best shape possible.

With the peloton strung out into one long line for the first hour of racing, it took 48km for a break to go clear and when it did my team-mate Salvatore Puccio had made it, along with his Movistar shadow, Joaquin Rojas, and three others.

Having formed on a hard little uncategorised climb, the breakaway forged on as the peloton took the descent easy enough, opening a lead of over 10 minutes by the time the Astana team of race leader Fabio Aru led us onto the day's penultimate climb, the 10km second-category Puerto del Escudo.

Astana knocked three minutes off the breakaway's lead as we climbed but a strong wind saw them ease up a bit and they still had 9mins 20 seconds as we hit the 18kmEspecial Category climb to the summit finish.

After Christian Knees brought Sergio Henao, Mikel and myself up the right-hand side of the bunch to get into position, Movistar set a hard tempo at the bottom, before Luis Leon Sanchez of Astana hit the front with 10km to go, splitting the group in the process.


When Dario Cataldo took over from Sanchez, 4km from the top, I was swinging off the last two or three wheels at the back. Diego Rosa then did a 500-metre full-on sprint which saw me lose contact, but I got back on when his stint on the front ended.

I was hoping they'd take a little breather, but Mikel Llanda accelerated even more with about 2.5km to go, just as we were suddenly enshrouded in thick fog, and that was the end of me.

With Salvatore still up ahead in the break, I could hear our directeur sportif, Gabriel Rasch, encouraging him and with just Mikel ahead of me in the peloton I tried to hang on as best I could because I knew that as third Sky rider across the line, my time would count towards our team classification lead.

I exploded shortly afterwards, though, and the wheels in front of me quickly disappeared out of sight in the fog as our other directeur sportif Dario Cioni came over the team radio.

"Okay guys just a reminder that you won't see the finish line until 150 metres to go."

I was in a world of pain, but that made me laugh. "The finish line?' I thought. 'I can't even see my f***ing front wheel here."

On my hands and knees with 400 metres to go, I was pretty happy when Sergio came out of the mist behind to pass me.

At the line I found out that Salvatore got second on the stage, while Mikel finished 12th and moved up to sixth place overall.

It was just three degrees at the top, so we donned jackets and hats for the ride back down, making for a 240km day in the saddle before a two-and-a-half-hour transfer to our next hotel.

Sunday, September 6, Stage 15: Comillas to Sotres Cabrales (175.8km)

We arrived at our hotel last night to find a wedding in full swing, something you don't want to see two weeks into a Grand Tour.

Despite our fears, the music stopped at 10.0 but I was so tired I might have slept through it anyway. I called my fiancée Debbie at 10.40 but as she was having dinner I told her I'd phone back in 15 minutes, only to fall asleep within five.

Racing kicked off with a flurry of attacks this morning and stayed flat-out for the first hour, until a nine-man move went clear after 50km. Movistar took up the chase, holding the escapees at three minutes for a long time before allowing them another minute on the second-category Alto del Torno after 105km.

Surprisingly, there was a slow-down in the peloton with about 50km to go, so most of us took the opportunity to stop for a pee before the day's battle began in earnest.

With Movistar doing the driving, the last 40km were full-on and as I wasn't feeling great on an 8km uncategorised climb with about 30km to go, I knew it was time to instigate plan 'B' for Boz.

As I hadn't been feeling great on the final climb yesterday, our young American Ian Boswell had been asked not to kill himself trying to get into the early break this morning in case he was needed to help Mikel or to be the third man for the team prize at the end of today's stage.

Geraint Thomas is our road captain here, so when he came back to the front with bottles on the incline I rode up alongside him.

"Hey 'G', I'm on the limit here, so make sure Boz knows he has to do the last climb full on."

Movistar set a fast pace on the 18km ascent to the summit finish but I hung on until Nairo Quintana attacked with about 10km to go.

Mikel, Sergio and Boz were still there when I went out the back door and all three did well, with Mikel finishing eighth on the stage and moving down one place to seventh overall and Sergio and Boz both hanging on for top 20 finishes, helping us keep our team classification lead.

After getting dropped, I rode the next 2km on my own and suffered in silence until my friend Maxime Monfort of BMC caught me and we rode to the top together, losing 13 minutes to stage winner Joaquin Rodriguez.

A 20km descent back down to the buses and another two hour transfer means these last couple of days have been very long. Roll on Tuesday and the second rest day.

Vuelta, Live, Eurosport/TG4 3.0

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