Nicolas Roche: 'You veered off your line on purpose!' I said, wagging my finger at the winner'
Vuelta a Espana diary
Tuesday, August 27 – Stage 4: Cullera to El Puig (175.5km)
After the excitement of my first night in the race leader’s jersey, last night was a pretty normal night on the Vuelta.
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There was no glass of wine or champagne for retaining the lead, although I probably could have done with one after what felt like another stressful day.
Apart from the stress of trying to hold onto the race lead, having the red jersey here adds about an hour onto every stage as the podium ceremonies, anti-doping controls and media requests all take a chunk out of your recovery time and I’ve been arriving back to the hotel a lot later than usual each evening.
Last night we were staying in a hotel on the side of the motorway, which meant I was woken pretty early this morning by the drone of commuters flying past on their way to work.
Today’s stage was a pretty flat affair and after the 12km neutralised section ended, two guys jumped up the road and the peloton eased its way into the stage.
I wasn’t really near the front for the first 50km today, and even had time to chat with a couple of friends in the bunch for a while.
When the gap to the leaders went out to six minutes or so, the Bora-Hansgrohe team of Sam Bennett and the Quick-Step team of Fabio Jakobsen sent a few men up to help my team-mates Rob and Michael control things and as the pace increased, I headed back to join my team-mates in the line.
Our Dutch rider Martijn Tusveld crashed after about 60km today.
I didn’t see what happened but, after banging his face, he rode the rest of the stage with a blood-soaked bandaged over his right cheek.
As we hit the only climb of the day, the third-category Puerto del Oronet with about 50km to go, it suddenly started lashing rain, so the pressure was on to get to the front of the peloton and try and stay safe for the wet descent.
I was lucky I had Michael Storer in front of me and he took me up the far left of the road and really rode out in the wind to keep me as near the front as possible without me having to exert too much energy.
In fairness, the Astana guys gave me a bit of space on the climb before Movistar took over the pace as we approached the top with the breakaways in sight.
Thankfully, the rain stopped and the descent was dry but the tempo stayed high all the way to the finish, with EF Education First putting everyone in the gutter in the crosswinds with about 20km to go.
The peloton split into three groups under the pressure, but again the guys kept me up front and I was never in any trouble.
In the finale, Wilco and I looked after ourselves as Nikias and Casper helped position our German fast man Max Walscheid for the final sprint.
Max did really well to take third on the stage but afterwards he was relegated for not keeping a straight line in the sprint.
Fellow Irishman Sam Bennett was also unlucky in the final gallop as he missed out on a second stage win by a whisker to Dutch rider Fabio Jakobsen of Deceuninck-Quick-Step.
Sam did enough to take the lead in the points classification though and as we got changed together before the podium ceremony, he told me how he had taken the long way around the last roundabout and although he had the speed to get back, he was boxed in for a while and just ran out of road, losing the stage in a photo finish.
Sam had to dive through a few gaps to get alongside Jakobsen in the last few metres and as the three of us waited to go onto the podium – for the craic – I feigned anger and approached the young Dutchman to tell him that I thought he had cut Sam off in the sprint and should have been disqualified. “I saw you! You veered off your line! You did it on purpose!” I said wagging my finger in his face.
Sam knew that I hadn’t even seen the sprint from where I was, but for a few seconds the poor kid thought I was serious and didn’t know what was going on until Sam and I burst out laughing and congratulated him.
Today was another good day on the Vuelta for Ireland as I went home with the red jersey and Sam went home with the green but it could all change tomorrow.
Keeping a two-second advantage over one of the world’s best climbers on a summit finish is going to be tough but I will be giving it everything. One thing I won’t be doing is giving up trying.
Vuelta a Espana,
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