Friday 20 April 2018

Nicolas Roche: ‘I can’t waste energy by going shopping’

Thursday, September 9 Stage 12: Andorra la Vella to Lieda 172.5km

The leading group have no time to enjoy the scenery during the 12th stage of La Vuelta from Andorra to Lleida yesterday. Photo: Reuters
The leading group have no time to enjoy the scenery during the 12th stage of La Vuelta from Andorra to Lleida yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Nicolas Roche

Today's stage had an unusually late start of 1.15 but I got up at the usual time of 8.0.

As it was a Bank Holiday in Andorra the previous day and all the shops had been closed, some of the guys took advantage of the late start to buy some gifts for their wives and kids.

As team leader, though, I have to try and conserve as much energy as possible for the tough stages ahead, and wasting energy by walking around was out of the question for me. Instead, I had another coffee with some of the mechanics on the team bus, had a bit of a lie down and got my stuff ready for the stage start.

One of our young riders, 23-year-old Guillaume Bonnafond, has complained of being very tired over the past couple of days, so the previous day I had told him to take it easy and not to worry about his team duties, to focus on recovering for the hard days ahead.

At breakfast this morning he said he was still tired and was feeling pretty fragile but he somehow mustered up enough energy to go shopping for gifts with the other guys.

I gave out to him before the stage and told him that it didn't make sense to be complaining about being tired and then to be seen walking around the streets when he could be resting in bed instead.

At the Tour de France last year, Rinaldo Nocentini swapped his Ag2r team jersey for the yellow jersey of leader of the Tour de France in Andorra. This morning, in exactly the same place, Rinaldo swapped his jersey again -- this time for one of Philip Deignan's black Cervelo team jerseys.

Philip called to our Ag2r team bus this morning before leaving the Vuelta for home and hopefully a cure for the mystery virus that has curtailed his 2010 season. Rinaldo had asked him for a Cervelo jersey the day before, so they swapped shirts on the bus this morning and we had a quick chat and a coffee with him before he headed home.

The plan today was to try and get somebody in the break if it contained more than five or six riders. Although on paper it looked as if the stage to Lieda would end in a bunch sprint, if the breakaway group was big enough and worked hard enough together, there was always the chance they could stay away until the finish.

Other than that, my job was to try and conserve energy by staying sheltered in the middle of the bunch and if it came down to a sprint finish the guys were to give a hand to our sprinter, Sebastian Hinault, in the closing kilometres.

Once again, Biel Kadri made it into the breakaway, his third of the week. This time he had eight others for company but as one of them, Spaniard David Garcia, was only five minutes down on leader Igor Anton, they were never allowed gain more than three minutes or so and were fighting a losing battle into the strong headwind.

Biel turned 24 only last week and is riding his first three-week race. He has been in three breakaways so far and finished fifth on stage nine into Alcoy last Sunday.

He is pretty excited about being so active in his first Vuelta but if he continues like this I don't think he will get to Madrid on Sunday week. He was pretty chirpy after today's stage, when we were getting changed on the team bus, until Christophe Riblon started slagging him that he'd been in three breakaways so far but had managed to get dropped out of the only one that stayed away until the finish.

Biel is pretty happy with his performance so far, and rightly so, but we are a bit worried for him because we know there are three very hard mountains stages in a row looming towards the end of this week and if he uses up all his energy by going in fruitless breakaways he will be on his hands and knees next week.

Biel is a good, powerful, rider and is still very young. It's all good experience for him and he has shown he's not afraid to have a go, that's for sure.

As it turned out, it was pretty a hard stage. Even though we had a strong headwind for most of the stage, the average speed for the day was 44kph and that included a 12km climb.

It was pretty much full gas all the way. I just sat in the middle of the bunch all day and tried to recover from the efforts made on the two previous mountain stages.

Christophe stayed with me for most of the stage but as there was a lot of wind today, the peloton were in one long line most of the time. While it was easier than the previous day's mountain stage to Andorra, today was by no means an easy day.

The strong headwind in the final hour or so meant there were constant streams of tired riders coming back down both sides of the bunch, so it was imperative to stay alert in order not to drift back too far in the bunch.

In the last kilometre and a half we had a couple of bad corners and twists and, as our team is made up of mostly climbers, Sebastian was left to his own devices in the sprint and finished 20th.

Mark Cavendish pulled another sprint victory out of the bag today, thanks to a great manoeuvre by his lead-out man Matt Goss in the final corner. Without braking at all, 'Gossy' lashed into the corner first, with Cavendish on his wheel and the two of them came out of the bend a few metres ahead of the rest of the sprinters.

As they had a big enough gap, Cav tried to give Gossy the win but the Australian had automatically sat up, stopped pedalling and started celebrating another Cav victory and ended up third on the stage.


I seem to be going through phases of feeling good and bad during this Vuelta. A lot of it is in my head, though. Like today, when the break went clear, I knew I didn't have to be 100pc focused and began to think about things.

Even though today was relatively short, you still have a lot of time to think on a four-hour stage. I was thinking to myself, 'I'm sore here, I'm sore there. I'm hungry. I feel tired. I'm not in the humour to eat anything. I'm fed up.'

Being a professional cyclist is a lot like working in an office or doing any other job. Sometimes you get fed up and start thinking of things you don't like about the job. This usually happens when the pace slows down and you have time to think. Once the speed goes up again, you start to concentrate and then you realise, 'actually, I'm not going too bad.'

Friday is another relatively flat stage but, at almost 200km or 120 miles, it's going to be another long day in the saddle. We have another three hard mountain stages ahead, beginning on Saturday, and hopefully I will survive those three days.

It's all about conserving energy until then -- and then fighting to hold onto my overall position for as long as I can after that.

Vuelta a Espana,

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