Sunday 16 December 2018

Volta a Catalunya: 'I just found out Dan crashed on the oily city centre roads'

Volta a Catalunya

Peter Sagan of Bora-Hansgrohe sprints to victory at the finish line of the Gent-Wevelgem. Photo: Dirk Waem/AFP/Getty
Peter Sagan of Bora-Hansgrohe sprints to victory at the finish line of the Gent-Wevelgem. Photo: Dirk Waem/AFP/Getty

Nicolas Roche

Saturday March 24 - Stage 6: Vielha to Torrefarrera (117km)

After another heavy blizzard in the mountain resort we were staying in last night, I pulled back the curtains in my hotel bedroom this morning to reveal a thick white blanket of snow covering everything in sight. So it was no surprise when I switched on my phone to see an email from the riders' organisation telling us the stage route had been changed for the day.

What was originally scheduled to be a 196km-long stage with three big climbs in the first half of the day, got shortened by 80km.

The heavy snowfall overnight meant that the first two of those climbs; the Especial category Tunnel de Vielha and the second category Port de Viu de Llevata both pulled from the route for safety reasons.

Instead, we drove to the new start just after the descent of the Llevata, where the snow had been replaced with cold and rain, leaving the major obstacle of the day, the second category Port d'Ager, to come around 45km later.

After a lot of attacking and counter-attacking, two riders went clear after maybe 25km so when things settled down a few minutes before the foot of the climb most riders took the opportunity to stop for a pee or go back to the team car for extra rain capes or warmer jackets and gloves.

A big group of riders stopping together makes it easier to regain contact with the peloton as teams are more likely to wait for their own riders before starting a chase and you also have more help to regain contact when you're finished.

Just after we stopped though, an Astana guy attacked at the front of the peloton and left maybe 20 of us out the back, some with one arm in their rain capes, some with gloves in between their teeth and others standing at the side of the road.

I got a bit of a fright because I knew if I didn't regain contact I'd have to ride the last 50km with just those 20 guys for company.

As we chased through dropped riders on the climb, the bunch split in two groups and I didn't get back to the front part until the long and wet descent afterwards.

Back in the front part of the peloton, I hooked up with my team-mates Brent Bookwalter, Tejay Van Garderen and Danilo Wyss as we turned into a crosswind section with around 25km to go.

Here, the voice of our Directeur Sportif came over the radio.

"Guys stay near the front, the group is splitting from the back."

As the crosswinds forced us into the gutter, two big groups of riders went out the back leaving maybe 50 of us up front, just 40 seconds behind the two leaders with 15km to go.

Although there were a few sprinters teams chasing them, the lead duo did a pretty strong ride to hold onto 18 of those seconds at the line with Max Schachman of Quickstep taking his first pro victory ahead of Burgos rider Diego Hernandez.

Coming into the finish I tried to get Danilo towards the front in the last 3km and he took eighth on the stage as Sam Bennett easily took the sprint for third.

Sam looked so comfortable that he could maybe have had a stage win here if the duo had been reeled in.


Sunday March 25 - Stage 7: Barcelona Montjuic circuit (155km)

The early start this morning combined with the clock going forward meant that it was hard to get into the swing of things for the first few kilometres but having tried to get up the road in the breakaway the past couple of days, today was last chance saloon for me and a lot of other guys.

The first part of the stage was so fast that the break never really got clear at all, so after a few failed attempts I decided to keep my powder dry and wait a little bit.

After a ding-dong battle between first and second overall, Alejandro Valverde and Egan Bernal, for the time bonuses at the intermediate sprints after 71km and 88km, a group of eight went clear before we got onto the Montjuic circuit in Barcelona.

As they dangled a few seconds up the road, I hung around the front of the bunch and after the second of eight laps of the circuit, I attacked and bridged across to them.

As I got up to them though, South African Daryl Impey attacked again bringing his Mitchelton-Scott team-mate and eventual stage winner Simon Yates clear with Paris-Nice winner Marc Soler and a couple of others, leaving me in no man's land.

With a lot of oil and diesel from traffic on the wet city centre circuit it felt very dangerous and there were a lot of crashes throughout the stage.

The bunch had split in two by the time it caught me and suffering from my efforts I soon found myself in the second portion and stayed there for the rest of the stage.

With two laps to go my group rounded a corner to see a handful of bikes on the outside of the bend alongside some team cars and an ambulance. I didn't know it at the time but my cousin Dan Martin was one of those involved in the crash so I hope he's okay.

On the last lap I found myself alongside Sam at the back of the bunch so we just sat up with 2km to go and rode in together.

He was pretty active today and was one of the guys who flew past me on the climb when I was in no man's land, so I told him I'd have to keep an eye on him at the national championships this year.

I'm now on the way to the airport for a flight to Dublin and few days recovery with my grandparents and family. I'll be in Ireland for the next week, followed by a training block at altitude ahead of my next race, the Giro d'italia in May.

I'm looking forward to a few days training in the Wicklow mountains, but I'm told there's still snow on some of the roads from the recent storms.

I suppose it can't be any worse than here this week.

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