Nicolas Roche's Giro d'Italia diary: 'I was freezing and had to put the third jacket on, which is a record for me'
Giro d'Italia diary - Nicolas Roche
Tuesday, May 27, Stage 16: Ponte di Legno to Val Martello (139km)
Although today was the biggest mountain stage of the whole Giro, with three huge passes to be traversed, at the start this morning you would have been forgiven for thinking today was a team time trial.
With the legendary 15km climb of the Passo Gavia coming straight after the start, every team had their home trainers set up and were making sure their legs were warmed up before hitting the slope.
While it was only raining at the start, our team boss Oleg Tinkoff had gone ahead earlier and told us that it was snowing on the Gavia and also on the Stelvio, the 20km beast that came straight after it and is the highest point of this Giro.
The word coming back from team scouts was so bad that race leader Rigoberto Uran and his Omega Pharma Quickstep squad agreed with some of the bigger teams to try and neutralise the stage to at least the top of the Gavia. We would ride a steady pace to the top, where we could stop and put on rain jackets and whatever we needed for the cold descent. At the bottom of the descent we would have 90km left, 42km of which would be uphill and there would be plenty of racing left to be done without causing havoc on the first climb.
I started the stage with a heavy undershirt, a winter jersey and one of our new technology Sportsful Gortex and Windtex jackets, which came down to my elbows, underneath which were 'extreme cold' arm warmers and thermal gloves.
I had a black rain cape in my back pocket, while one of the bottles on my bike had its top cut off and another rain cape stuffed inside it just in case.
We rode pretty sensibly until about 10km up the Gavia, where one of the Katusha riders attacked. Everybody soon got nervous and with the snow blowing in our faces, everyone started riding harder and by the top there were only about 20 of us left in the peloton.
I wasn't feeling too warm on the Gavia so at the summit I took my hands off the bars, pulled the black cape out of my pockets and put it on.
A few kilometres into the descent though, I was still freezing and had to stop and put the third jacket on, which is a record for me.
A lot of the riders were stopped at the side of the road so I got back into a group with former race leader Cadel Evans and fifth-placed Domenico Pozzovivo on the way down and they rode flat out to get back to the front group. Within minutes of hitting the bottom we started climbing again. As I started to warm up a bit on the way up, I took my jackets off one by one and put them back where they were.
About halfway up the Stelvio there was a group of nine guys ahead with about two minutes' lead and my Tinkoff-Saxo team didn't want to give them too much leeway.
I went to the front and set a faster tempo on the climb. The higher we got the more snow there was, and the road had literally been carved through 10-metre walls of snow as we approached the summit.
My tempo on the front soon saw me warm up and I pulled my arm warmers down, even though we were riding through a blizzard.
Slowly but surely we reeled in all bar three of the breakaway when, 3km from the top, we got a message in our earpieces saying that because of heavy snow on the first part of the descent, part of the downhill section leading to the final climb would be neutralised.
We were told there would be a motorbike riding in front of us, guiding us down with a red flag, and when the flag was pulled in we would be racing again. Our team and a lot of others had soigneurs waiting at the top with warm clothes, rain jackets and hot drinks and I was dying to put on something warm.
Just past the summit, I stopped alongside Evans, Uran and my team-mate Rafal Majka, who had begun the day in third place overall, and there were riders putting on jackets and rain gear all over the place in preparation for the wind-chilled descent.
I had trouble putting my winter gloves on because my hands were so cold but as I was leaning against a barrier, one of the spectators helped me get them on. We all remounted and with the descent neutralised, we expected to catch up with the front of the group pretty easily.
As I made my way back through the cars one of the other team cars was driving alongside the Movistar team car and I could hear the directeur sportifs arguing through the window.
I didn't know it at the time but when I got back to the group there was no motorbike, no red flag and to make matters worse, Nairo Quintana of Movistar had attacked with four or five others and was two minutes up the road.
When we found out the news, I knew that Quintana would leapfrog Rafal if he opened a big enough gap so I went straight to the front and alongside my team-mate Ivan Rovny, two of Uran's Quickstep team-mates and a guy from Astana, we drilled it to the last climb to try and close the gap.
We took about 40 seconds back but once we hit the bottom, the fresher riders accelerated and I was dropped 4km into the 22km ascent, leaving Michael Rogers to look after Rafal to the top.
I eventually caught a small group with Philip Deignan in it and eight of us rode to the line together. Halfway up, Philip reckoned we'd lose around 25 minutes and he wasn't far off; we crossed the line in 33rd and 34th place 26'35" behind stage winner and new race leader Quintana.
Rafal finished seventh on the stage but lost four minutes to Quintana and three minutes to Frenchman Pierre Roland which means he's now fifth overall. Afterwards he was p***** off, but not with dropping two places. He's disappointed with the way it happened and I'd say he's not the only one tonight.
When they said it would be neutralised on the Stelvio descent, everybody stopped to put on jackets at the top apart from five or six guys, including the two that leapfrogged Rafal today.
The organisers now deny saying the race would be neutralised on the descent, but they announced it on TV and told us on the radio and I heard it was even on their official Twitter feed before it was deleted, so where did that come from?
Rafal is p***** off but tomorrow he will be back. He has the killer attitude. There's five days to go and at this stage I'm pretty sure he's not satisfied with fifth and will try and get on the podium. He's in top shape and has the whole team behind him. He will attack. We will attack.
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