Nicolas Roche: 'I can go all day, but quick changes in pace kill me'
Monday, August 20, Stage 3: Faustino V -- Arrate (Eibar) 155.3km
Even if today's final climb to Alto de Arrate was only 6km long, the first mountain-top finish of any race always gives a good indication of where you are compared to the top guys.
Sometimes you think you have good legs, only to hit a wall as the road rises towards the finish. Other times you are happy with how they respond to your efforts and look forward to more climbing.
This morning at the team briefing, we took a look at the run-in to the finish on a Google Earth-type video and immediately knew it was going to be important to be near the front in the town before the climb, as the sinuous streets were only wide enough for one car and contained a lot of dangerous-looking speed bumps.
Having moved up the peloton with around 15km to go, I was in a decent spot near the front as Sky led us through the town.
With 6km to go, Alberto Contador and two of his Saxo Bank team-mates hit the bottom of the climb at the front, with me sitting behind Tour de France runner-up Chris Froome of Sky, and the two Katusha climbers, Joaquim Rodriguez and Daniel Moreno.
After a short stall a kilometre later, when Contador's team-mates blew up, the first attacks came. Soon Contador threw in a really hard dig off the front and the rest of us could only watch as Rodriguez, Froome and Alejandro Valverde of Movistar followed him and began to ride away.
Contador didn't want any hangers-on, though, and stalled enough to allow us chasers to regain contact, all the time just waiting for his next chance.
A kilometre later, Valverde attacked, taking Contador, Rodriguez and Froome with him as I got left in no-man's land between them and the chasers. After two more Contador attacks and two more regroupings, I tried to attack them with 3km to go.
Having clawed my way back onto the four leaders with the other chasers, I decided to keep up my momentum and go past them with a bit of speed.
I was hoping to get a couple of seconds' advantage, but my head was stronger than my legs and all I did was go to the front and drag the group along for a few metres.
Whereas Contador is super skinny and has this sports-car kick on the climbs, I'm more of a diesel engine. I can go all day, but those quick changes in pace kill me so it was an optimistic attempt at an attack to say the least.
I reckon there were more attacks on the last climb today than in the whole Tour de France this year and eventually the elastic snapped -- Contador pulled Valverde, Rodriguez and Froome clear with 3km to go. Knowing there was a little downhill dip coming up, I jumped from the second group with 2km left, but the nine remaining chasers caught me in the final kilometre.
I tried to jump into the group near the front as I knew the finish was really technical and there wouldn't be much room to overtake. But I only managed to latch onto the fifth wheel in line and had to stay there, taking 11th on the stage, six seconds behind the lead quartet.
I'm up to 11th overall now, 52 seconds behind stage winner and new leader Valverde, but I can't get over-excited after one mountain. Tomorrow is going to be different, with a 15km climb to the finish.
I don't know whether I will lose five seconds or five minutes, but I hope to be aggressive again.
Vuelta a Espana,
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