Nicolas Roche: 'Dan's coolness and intelligence earned his place among the best'
Saturday, March 23, Stage 6: Almacelles – Valls 178.7km
Three kilometres into today's penultimate stage, I noticed that I couldn't use my two hardest gears, which meant I had a top gear of 53x14 for the fastest parts of the race.
With the Garmin-Sharp team of my cousin and race leader Dan Martin trying to keep the pace high enough to control the various attacks at the head of the peloton, I eased up and drifted back to my Saxo-Tinkoff team car. Our mechanic leaned out of the window and, as we tipped along at 50km/h in the middle of the cavalcade, tried to adjust the little screw on my rear derailleur. It wouldn't budge, so we decided to stop and swap bikes.
With a quick shove, I was chasing to regain the peloton. After 15km of jumping from car to car to get to the front, I finally made it into the back of the bunch in time to see Dan win the first intermediate sprint of the day and give himself three seconds in time bonuses to add to his advantage over second-placed Joaquim Rodriguez.
The plan today was for everybody on my team to have a go at getting in the break early on, except Chris Anker Sorensen who, as the highest placed of the team overall and the most likely to be chased, would wait until the first category climb of Alt de Prades after 100km to make his efforts, so I made my way to the front and joined in the attacks with the rest of my team-mates.
After covering 102km in two hours of frantic racing, I got into a decent-looking move at the bottom of the climb but, there were a couple of guys too close to the race lead to be allowed clear, and we were brought back just before Chris jumped clear with seven others and the break of the day was formed.
Things then calmed down in the peloton. I'd noticed a squeak coming from my spare bike almost as soon as I'd hopped on it but presumed it could be sorted out with a drop of oil later on and just carried on. I stopped for a pee and, before starting off again, I examined my bike and noticed that the cranks were loose, which forced another trip back to the car.
As they couldn't be tightened properly on the move, the only solution was to hop back on my original bike which had the gear problem. I didn't know it at the time but I could have saved myself a lot of energy if I'd just stayed on it in the first place.
The final second-category climb today was super fast and although Chris and his breakaway partners were caught on the descent just 8km from the finish, the rest of us were too knackered to try anything in the final sprint, which was won by Aussie Simon Gerrans.
Sunday, March 24, Stage 7: El Vendrell – Barcelona (Montjuic) 122.2km
Today's final stage saw a few strong riders, including my Dutch team-mate Karsten Kroon, go clear in the early kilometres but they were brought back when we hit the tough finishing circuit in Barcelona, which we had to cover eight times.
Dan's team knew that if they let a group stay clear to the finish they would mop up the bonus seconds on offer for the first three across the line, and help Dan keep his 17-second lead intact as long as there was no one high up the overall standing in the move.
Dan rode very well today, spending most of the stage on his nearest rival Rodriguez's wheel. They gave him a hard time, with plenty of attacks all day, but Dan was smart not to chase everything. There were a lot of breakaways where he could have panicked and chased but he was pretty cool and rode intelligently and I think he showed this week that he was the best rider in the race.
Nicki Sorensen and myself got into a couple of moves as we climbed Montjuic on various laps but they came to nothing. Although there were four riders up the road coming to the finish, I wanted to try something and attacked again with 2.5km to go at the top of the last drag. I tried to hold off the peloton for fifth but was caught with 50m to go. When it's not your week, it's not your week.
Looking back, I wasn't capable of riding for the GC this week but I don't think there's much point dwelling on it too much. I want to put it behind me and just look at the positive things.
I've done some attacking, been in a long breakaway on the tough mountain stage Dan won, and it's all work done for the future. I'll try and think positive rather than go crazy trying to nitpick about why I'm not in top form. I had the legs to attack in the finish today, so I'm not creeping. I'm just not in the form I should be in.
Dan is heading to the Irish bar in Girona with his family and a few friends tonight to celebrate as I sit in the airport waiting for my flight home. On Friday, I'm back in Spain for the GP Indurain and then start the Tour of the Basque Country.
Dan's win was amazing, a fantastic victory, and he beat some of the top riders in the world here. I'm really happy for him and what he has achieved, but it's his moment. Hopefully, I'll have mine another day.