Friday 15 November 2019

'I'm in a good position and I'm not giving it up without a fight'

Nicolas Roche

Friday, August 31, Stage 13: Santiago de Compostela to Ferrol 172.8km.

Apart from the race for the red jersey of race leader at this Vuelta, there have been plenty of other interesting battles going on in the background for the other classifications.

The rule in cycling is that if you lead more than one classification, you wear the most important jersey and the next one is handed to the second-placed man in that category.

The overall standings are the most important -- with a red jersey signifying the leader in Spain, rather than the usual yellow jersey. Next comes the green points jersey, then the polka dot King of the Mountains tunic; and at the Vuelta, the white Combined jersey is next. To add to the confusion, sometimes there is also an U-23 classification and an intermediate sprint classification in other races.

Today, fourth overall Alejandro Valverde leads the King of the Mountains classification but is only two points ahead of race leader Joaquin Rodriguez.

Red-jerseyed Rodriguez also leads the Combined Classification -- which sees a white jersey awarded for the rider with the best placings in the points, King of the Mountains and overall standings combined. But as Rodriguez wears red and Valverde -- currently second in the combined classification, wears the polka dots of mountain king, the white jersey was worn today by third-placed Alberto Contador.

While German sprinter John Degenkolb began today in the green jersey, he lost his lead in the competition yesterday to stage winner Rodriguez and was only wearing it because Rodriguez was already the more important red jersey of race leader.

Confused? Well, these are all the little things we have to take into consideration every day. For instance, today we knew that Degenkolb had a good chance of taking back the green jersey if he won the stage, which meant that his Argos Shimano team would ride on the front to try to bring back whatever moves went and set him up for the sprint.

Accordingly, our team plan was to get someone in the breakaway only if the group consisted of seven or more riders, as they would have a better chance of staying away to the finish than a smaller group.

As it happened, a seven-man move, including some really strong riders, went clear after 50km or so and our guys missed it. While Argos Shimano did keep them on a tight rope for much of the day, the escapees just managed to hold off the sprinters and British rider Steve Cummings of BMC snatched the stage win.

With their lead dwindling to around 40 seconds in the final 10km, I thought we were definitely going to catch them but fair play to them, they must have been motoring. We were riding really hard for most of the day to bring them back and the speed in the final kilometres hit 70kph for a while. We were really strung out in one long line for long periods.

Towards the end of the stage, Argos Shimano faded a little and immediately guys took the opportunity to jump clear.

I didn't know it at the time, but Spaniard Daniel Moreno -- who began the day just ahead of me in sixth overall -- took 10 seconds with two other riders with 8km to go, but the Rabobank team of fifth-placed Robert Gesink, sensing the danger, took over the chase and brought them back.

In fairness, Degenkolb's team didn't get much help at the front today and were pretty tired by the end. Even though he has won an incredible four stages already, I think the young German will find it hard to win the green jersey now because there are still a lot of mountains to come, where Rodriguez will score points and he won't.

The next three days are going to be savage. We have five mountains tomorrow before the first of three mountain-top finishes in a row, beginning with the first-category climb to Puerto de Ancares.

SLOG

On Sunday we have two mountains before the final 16km ascent of Lagos de Covadonga, followed by two more first-category climbs ahead of the 30km Hors Category slog to the top of Cuitunigru on Monday.

It's been a hard first two weeks on this Vuelta. Every single day there has been something going on and I don't remember the last two years being so hard.

While I am not so far off a top five overall, the guys behind me are not far off my seventh place and some of them look to be going pretty well the past few days.

Basque climber Igor Anton from Euskaltel in particular has caught my eye and will be looking to close the gap in the big mountains.

The legs are sore at the minute, but I'm sure everybody's legs are sore. I know my condition is good, but riding up 30km long climbs in the next few days will be very different to the shorter, steeper, ones we've had so far.

Even after this weekend, there are more mountains looming but I'm in a good position, seventh overall, and I'm not giving it up without a fight.

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