Monday 21 October 2019

Nicolas Roche's Vuelta Diary: Almost 100 riders here are over an hour down on Yates

Thursday, September 13, Stage 18: Ejea de los Caballeros to Lleida (181kms)

Simon Yates of Britain. Photo: AP
Simon Yates of Britain. Photo: AP

Nicolas Roche

Although I'm almost three weeks into a Grand Tour and I haven't seen much apart from bikes, team cars, buses, hotels and television cameras for almost a month, normal life goes on in the background.

At the moment, I'm in the process of moving to a smaller apartment - one which I have yet to find, even though I'm due to move out of my current abode on Saturday, the day before this Vuelta ends.

One of the stipulations of moving is that the apartment is given a fresh coat of paint before it's handed on to the next tenant, so before leaving for the Vuelta I had arranged for a removal company to come and take my furniture out before the painter arrived.

Today, I found out that the removal company's truck broke down last night so the painter wasn't able to get his work done and the letting agency are threatening to charge me more money if it's not ready on time.

The problem with being on a Grand Tour and trying to deal with that type of stuff is that you only have maybe an hour in the morning and then a few minutes after the stage to sort things out while these companies are open.

Today I realised that directly after the stage is not a particularly good time to call people; as tiredness, hunger and crankiness combined to give some poor removal man an ear-bashing, but hopefully everything will be sorted out by this time tomorrow.

Billed as a sprinter's affair, today's stage saw very few takers for a long-range breakaway this morning.

In fact, Sven Erik Bystrom (UAE Team Emirates), Jelle Wallays (Lotto-Soudal) and Jetse Bol (Burgos-BH) were the only three brave souls to attack at all.

With the Quickstep and Bora Hansgrohe squads leading the charge behind for their respective sprinters, Elia Viviani and Peter Sagan, the trio never got much more than two and a half minutes and the move seemed doomed from the start.

When Quickstep flew through the feed zone at the halfway mark in the stage, ignoring the soigneurs handing up bottles or food from the roadside, I expected the trio to be caught at any time, but yet again, this Vuelta proved unpredictable.

Despite losing Bol to fatigue and the peloton closing the gap to inside a minute with around 7km remaining, the other two managed to pull it off and held the bunch off by inches on the line.

Wallays snatched the stage victory ahead of Bystrom, Sagan, Viviani and the rest of the marauding peloton - not that I saw much of the final sprint.

The main aim for a lot of riders today was to save as much energy as possible for the next two mountain stages, so when Fabio Aru of UAE let a wheel go coming out of a roundabout and eased out of the line-out with about 5km to go, everyone behind him - about 70 riders, just sat up.

If that had happened in the opening week, riders would have scrambled around the Italian and tried to close the gap but not now, with just three days, six mountains and two summit finishes to go. Instead, our bedraggled group of hopefuls simply rolled across the line three minutes down.

After 18 stages, there are almost 100 riders here over an hour down on race leader Simon Yates; 28 of those are over four hours down, so what's a few more minutes among friends?

Vuelta a Espana,

Live, Eurosport 1, 3.0

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