Monday 18 December 2017

Nicolas Roche Diary: 'It felt like you were going to ride into someone's back garden at any minute'

Wednesday, August 28 – Stage 5: Sober to Lago de Sanabria, 168.4km

Australian rider Michael Matthews of the Orica-GreeEdge team celebrates his victory at the end of the fifth day of the Tour of Spain, a 174.3 km stage between Sober and Lago de Sanabria
Australian rider Michael Matthews of the Orica-GreeEdge team celebrates his victory at the end of the fifth day of the Tour of Spain, a 174.3 km stage between Sober and Lago de Sanabria

Nicolas Roche

While last year's Vuelta had very few transfers between stages, this year we seem to have a huge amount of travelling to do, which really makes the day drag.

This morning, we had a two-and-a-half-hour ride on the team bus to the stage start. All you can do is chill out and try to relax on the journey.

Everyone has their own way of spending the time. Some guys will read, while another will watch a movie or mess around on their phones. I tend to close my eyes and listen to music most of the time and if I'm tired, I'll nod off on the way to the hotel after the stage.

Although today's stage was reasonably short at 168km, we had a 9km neutralised section before racing actually commenced and another 6km ride to get to the team bus afterwards.

This was followed by another two-and-a-half-hour transfer to our next hotel.

Having lost the green jersey of points leader to Daniel Moreno of Katusha yesterday, today I pulled on the white jersey with blue polka dots of King of the Mountains for the first time.

Although a five-man breakaway group went up the road and contested the two third-category climbs along today's route, I knew there weren't enough points available for anyone in the move to take the lead of the King of the Mountains competition off me today and I would be on the podium again at the end of the stage.

The best thing about that is that the next two days are mainly flat, with no mountains points on offer, so I will hold the polka dot jersey until Saturday now, where the final climb to the finish will decide who wears it after that.

Once the break went, we were on pretty big roads, so there was no real panic. I stayed in the first third of the bunch with the rest of the team, just in case anything happened, but there was no real stress.

The Orica-GreenEdge and Garmin-Sharp teams ensured the escapees were reeled in before the finish in order to give their respective sprinters, Michael Matthews and Tyler Farrar, the best chance of winning in the stage.

I was hoping it would stay fast in the last 5km or so as I was in a decent position ahead of the tight, twisting corners that were due in the last couple of kilometres but there was a bit of a stall with 2.5km to go. A Euskaltel rider attacked and I got swamped a little bit.

Today was the first real finish for the fast men and while I wanted to stay near the front to stay out of the way of crashes and also ensure I wouldn't get caught out if there was a time split in the peloton, I didn't really get involved in the bunch gallop to the line.

I knew the last corner was 350m from the finish and wanted to be near the front there so that I didn't have to sprint too hard coming out of it.

I gave myself enough sliding room to finish which I thought would be around the top-25 mark, but actually crossed the line in 16th place behind the winner Matthews.

The finishing straight was on a concrete road today and with loads of ridges, bumps and holes. It was a bit disappointing for a Grand Tour. It felt like you were going to ride into someone's back garden at any minute.

For the past few days, the post-finish area at the Vuelta has been chaotic. Soigneurs, riders, officials, media; everyone seems to be crammed into a small space immediately after the line and there simply isn't enough room. Logistically, 250 people just don't fit into that area.

It was so bad yesterday that my Danish team-mates Michael Morkov and Nicki Sorenson were at the back of the bunch, but the crowd was so big ahead of them that they had to actually stop and couldn't get past the finish line for a minute or two until they cleared a path.

I was back on the podium again today to collect the polka-dot jersey of King of the Mountains and also the white jersey as leader of the combined classification.

As daily leader of each classification, I get the jersey, a bouquet of flowers and €100. I'm not going to be a millionaire out of leading the classifications, but it's still really nice to be up there.

One of the problems with wearing a strange jersey is that it makes it harder for the team soigneurs to recognise you at the feed zone during the stage.

With 200 riders coming flying at you, it's bad enough trying to hand musettes up to guys in your usual team kit without having to try and spot a new jersey in the middle of the peloton as well.

My soigneur Firmin had just gotten used to me wearing the green jersey yesterday when I changed to the polka-dots today.

As I approached the feed zone, I could see him looking away, but a quick shout caught his attention and I was able to grab my meals on wheels as we sped past.

I had reminded him this morning to keep an eye out for me so we had a good laugh about it afterwards.

Because of my visit to the podium, everyone was changed and waiting for me by the time I got to the team bus afterwards.

Not wanting to delay things, I had a quick shower and told our driver I'd get changed and eat my post-stage snack on the drive to our next hotel.

I've spent four and a half hours on my bike today, but I'll have five hours done on the team bus by the time we get there.

Vuelta a Espana,

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