Nicolas Roche's Volta a Catalunya Diary: 'It was so fast we finished 45 minutes early'
Friday, March 24 - Stage 5: Llivia to Vielha (213km)
With another tough day in the mountains today ending with a 14km drop off the last climb into Vielha, the plan for me this morning was to get into the early breakaway.
Unfortunately, that plan didn't work out.
With an intermediate sprint for time bonuses coming after just 5km this morning, things got off to a fierce start with second-placed Colombian Egan Bernal of Sky winning the three seconds on offer at the line and cutting his overnight deficit to race leader Alejandro Valverde down to just 16 seconds.
A slightly downhill start combined with frantic non-stop attacking saw us cover 52km in the first hour of racing today, so myself and my Swiss team-mate Danilo Wyss took turns trying to follow the moves and get into the early break ahead of the Especial category climb of Port el Canto which began after 59km.
Like yesterday, I was in loads of groups, but none of them snapped the elastic to the peloton and it was Danilo who caught the right wave and went clear with 14 others, building up a maximum lead of three minutes along the way.
Once again, the Movistar squad of race leader Valverde and Sky riding for second-placed Bernal kept them on a tight leash and by the time we reached the last climb with about 25km to go, their advantage was down to around a minute as Jarlinson Pantano (Trek) and Vegard Laengen (UAE) jumped clear of the break, leaving Danilo chasing a few seconds back with Giovanni Visconti of Bahrain Merida.
With my rain jacket tucked into my back pocket for fear of snow or rain on the long descent to the finish, I stayed with Tejay (van Garderen) on the climb as we closed in on the escapees.
Once again Valverde showed how strong he is with a little attack near the top but thankfully he didn't push on with it.
The descent was a bit sketchy with snow and grit on the road but it didn't stop kamikaze descender Matej Mohoric of Bahrain Merida bombing down and closing a half-minute gap to catch his team-mate Visconti and Danilo in the last kilometre.
As we closed in on the tail end of the group, Mohoric threw his arms in the air when as he won the sprint ahead of Visconti and Danilo - not realising Pantano and Laengen had already crossed the line ten seconds earlier.
He will probably get a good slagging for that tomorrow.
Today was a bit of a shock to the system after being battered by headwinds and finishing later than advertised for the first part of the week, today we crossed the line a full 45 minutes ahead of the fastest anticipated schedule.
Tomorrow there are three more climbs but they all come in the first half of the stage.
With the top of the last climb coming 70km from the finish, the overall contenders may be happy enough to let a breakaway go clear to the end and fight it out for overall victory on the lumpy final day in Barcelona on Sunday, so I'll be giving it everything to get into the break again.
Volta a Catalunya,
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