Tuesday 20 March 2018

Nicolas Roche - With Alberto jumping on my wheel, I set the pace for a few hundred metres before he overtook me

Vuelta a Espana diary: Thursday, August 31, Stage 12: Motril to Antequera (160kms)

Tomasz Marczynski celebrates his win. Photo: Getty Images
Tomasz Marczynski celebrates his win. Photo: Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Our hotel on Wednesday night was in a huge holiday resort on the southern coast of Spain, with a restaurant that serves 600 meals a night - so dinner was anything but quiet and peaceful.

Although we have our own chef and we had a table in one corner of the restaurant, the noise was ear-splitting so there was no hanging around the table for a chat and a cup of tea after dinner.

I was in bed pretty late afterwards and it took me a while to get to sleep.

Having lost four minutes on the stage, and dropped from joint-second to 11th, I was quite upset and must have re-run the stage a hundred times in my head.

My room-mate Tejay van Garderen was in the same boat. Having crashed twice on stage six, Tejay crashed again on Wednesday and gave his ribs another wallop so he was pretty pissed off too, having dropped from fifth to 12th overall.

The mood was pretty grim but we tried to keep each other motivated and we both know this Vuelta has a long way to run yet.

At least this morning bright sunshine had replaced the rain ahead of another tough stage, ending with a combination of two hard climbs in the last 80km.

Sometimes on Grand Tours a little group jumps up the road after a couple of kilometres and the early break is formed while the peloton settles down and begins to reel them in later in the stage.

The last few days here, though, have seen some hard battling to be in the early escape and today was no different, with an hour of eyeballs-out racing before a baker's dozen went clear after 46km.

We took it easy for maybe 10km after they went, partly for respite and partly because we were going in and out of towns, which meant that the constant stream of fans along the side of the road meant there was nowhere to pull in for the almost traditional pee stop that the peloton takes once the break goes.

Once we hit quieter roads and answered the call of nature, racing resumed with Sky taking over at the head of the peloton for race leader Chris Froome.

Ten kilometres later we were in the feed zone, where I grabbed my musette of food and bottles in preparation for the first-category climb of Puerto del Leon after 84km.

For some reason today, perhaps after my hard ride yesterday, I felt hungry all day so I also had to send the lads back to the team car for some gels twice during the relatively short stage, just in case I ran out of fuel towards the end.

Even if they weren't too worried about bringing back the escapees today, Sky set a decent tempo on the first 20km-long mountain - just hard enough to discourage attacks but easy enough to keep the peloton together.

After a long, technical descent we approached the last climb, the second-category Puerto del Torca after 137km, where my team-mates brought Tejay and I to the front before the bottom.

As we hit the 6km climb, I was on the far right of the peloton with Trek's Alberto Contador beside me.

I knew the top of the climb flattened out a bit and had planned to have a go in the last couple of kilometres but I got confused with the road signs for the intermediate sprint - which strangely came on the climb, and made my move too early. With Alberto jumping on my wheel, I set the pace for a few hundred metres before he overtook me and upped the tempo. Alberto is a better climber than me so I knew that if our attack was ever going to work, he'd have to ride on the climb before I could share the work with him on the descent.

"Don't worry, I'll give you a hand on the descent, if I survive!"

Alberto was happy with that.

He didn't care whether I could hold onto him or not; he was trying to gain some time on his rivals and just set his own tempo, which turned out to be a bit quick for me.

After a kilometre or so of climbing, we passed the real '5km to the summit' sign and I realised I'd gone too early. Sky were pulling behind us and the peloton had been whittled down to about 20 riders, but after 3km of hanging onto Alberto I had to make a decision whether to try hang onto him until the top and chance completely exploding or catch a breather and hang on to the group behind.

After yesterday's tough day I wasn't backing myself too much so I played it safe and eased back to the group as Alberto continued.

As I settled back in what was left of the peloton, Froome's front wheel went from under him on a corner on the descent and he hit the deck about three places in front of me.

By then, some of the other teams were chasing Contador, who had now linked up with a team-mate from the breakaway and had about a 30-second advantage, so they just continued riding, knowing that if they eased up for Froome that Contador would open a huge gap and overtake them in the GC.

With a lot of guys ahead of us on GC in the group, myself and Tejay didn't have to ride and just hung on as they attacked each other on a couple of little kickers, trying to put a few seconds into each other.

With more mountains looming, this weekend will be savage, so hopefully tomorrow will be more of a classic sprinter's stage.

  • Vuelta a Espana, Live, Eurosport 2, 2.0

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