Nicolas Roche: 'The descent was pretty scary - at 100kph, if one guy fell, we all fell'
Giro d'Italia Diary Friday, May 13, Stage 7: Sulmona to Foligno (211km)
With the 10km-long second-category climb of Le Svolte di Popoli coming after just 20km of today's stage, we expected a fast start with plenty of attacks so, after signing in and having our team meeting, we jumped on the home trainers in front of the bus to warm up.
As we rolled out of town in the neutralised section, our directeur sportif came over the team radio to tell us that it was raining further up the road so my German team-mate Christian Knees dropped back and grabbed our rain capes.
I stuffed mine into my back pocket seconds before the flag dropped and the fireworks began with platoons of riders jumping up the road.
With their team leader Damiano Cunego leading the King of the Mountains by just a single point from Lotto Soudal's Tim Wellens, his Nippo Vini Fantini team tried to control things so that Cunego could contest the sprint to the top and add to his tally.
Despite their best efforts though, three riders broke clear to take maximum points at the summit and, to rub salt into Cunego's wounds, Wellens beat him in the sprint for fourth, took two more points than him and stripped him of his lead in the classification.
There was a 25km plateau afterwards where things would normally have settled down and the three escapees would have built up a big lead.
But not today. Instead, the break was caught and the attacks kept coming, one after the other, until there were only about 40 of us left up front, with a two-and-a-half-minute gap to the rest of the peloton and 160km still left to race.
With so few guys up there, everyone was afraid that a group of 10 or 15 would go clear and there wouldn't be enough riders left behind to bring them back, so it was relentless.
We had myself, David Lopez, Sebastian Henao, Mikel Nieve and leader Mikel Landa in the move. Astana, Movistar and Quickstep all had guys up there too so we were all marking each other.
Movistar chased Astana, Astana chased Lotto, we chased Movistar and it all started all over again.
At one point Alejandro Valverde turned to me and asked: "Why is everybody still trying to go in the breakaway? We are the breakaway!"
Eventually we all agreed that what we were doing was madness, so when six riders who weren't a threat to the overall classification went clear after 50km or so, the team leaders called a truce, stopped for a pee at the side of the road and waited for the second part of the bunch to arrive.
When they did, the Lotto Soudal team started riding towards the intermediate sprint in Aquila, where just 500m from the line, my Italian team-mate Elia Viviani, who had been dropped on the climb, showed real grit when he regained contact and came storming past on the outside in an effort to get some points towards the red jersey.
Elia took second in the bunch sprint but unknown to him, the six escapees had taken all of the points on offer, so he got nothing for his trouble.
Soon after, it started raining and when we hit a 20km descent after 80km it was really cold, down to six degrees after starting the stage in 20 degree sunshine. I was freezing so I got a dry top from the car in the valley.
The dual carriageway descent off the last climb was pretty scary because with everyone packed across the road at speeds of over 100kph, if one guy fell we all fell.
With the peloton all together now, the final kilometres were very tricky, with seven or eight corners to be taken on the approach to the line.
Elia was sixth in line with a kilometre to go but got boxed in on the last corner and finished tenth. The sprints here have been quite frustrating, with a lot of guys fighting to get into position only to let the wheels go in the last kilometre.
These gaps mean the leaders have to contest each sprint, which makes it even more dangerous.
Today I was riding behind Valerio Agnoli from Astana when some guy from Wilier Southeast dived under us on a corner. He squeezed both of us out on the bend to get in front of us and then decided it was a bit too fast for him and sat up with 800m to go.
I sprinted around him as Agnoli gave him a piece of his mind behind me.
There was a nine-second gap in the sprint today but it was two wheels behind me so I came out on the right side of the split.
I moved up to 16th overall, one place behind Mikel, while guys like Esteban Chavez who had bust a gut to gain time on yesterday's summit finish lost nine seconds. Sometimes it just doesn't make sense.
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