Nicolas Roche: 'I got a great laugh out of seeing the guys dancing and singing to the camera'
Thursday, September 6, Stage 18: Aguilar de Campoo -- Valladolid 204.5km
FROM spending the last three weeks in various rooms with my team-mate Maxime Bouet, I've noticed how much he is obsessed with his hair. He brings enough equipment with him everywhere to run a small barber shop and likes to cut his own hair every three or four days.
As the unofficial team barber, Max also cuts most of team's hair and a few days ago he cut mine, which coincided with a Samson-like loss of strength in the high mountains.
My legs were feeling pretty crap at the start this morning and I was beginning to regret my late attacks on the final climb yesterday as guys started shooting off up the road as soon as the flag was dropped.
Although five riders jumped away straight after the start, the second division Caja Rural team took it upon themselves to chase for the next 30km before there was any respite.
On the all too infrequent calmer sections, I had a quick chat with my friend Amael Moinard from BMC mid-stage. I'm going to his wedding in October in Caen in Normandy and I wanted to find out the nearest airport and the best hotel arrangements. I'm really looking forward to it as our mutual friends and fellow pros Maxime Monfort of Radioshack and Geoffrey Lequatre of Saur Sojasun are going as well and it will be nice to get the old training group back together for a day out.
I also had a good laugh with my current training partner -- and current Vuelta King of the Mountains -- Simon Clarke today. His team, Orica GreenEdge, followed on from the American Olympic Swimming team and have been busy making their own lip sync video of 'Call Me Maybe' by Carly Rae Jepsen over the past two weeks on the race.
I watched it on YouTube last night (tinyurl.com/9or5kqa) and got a great laugh out of seeing the guys, who are normally so serious on a bike, dancing and singing to the camera. Cork soigneur and Irish team masseuse Sandra Hodnett works for the team and is also in the video. The whole team really got into it, with riders even dropping back to the team car on some stages and miming the words to the camera mid-race. From riders to management and staff, even the team chef, everyone really put a lot of effort into it.
The best part for me, however, was Simon's performance in the video. While receiving his King of the Mountains jersey on the podium after a stage, Simon turned his back to the crowd, pointed at the rear of his jersey for 'Here's my number' and then did the 'Call Me Maybe' motion to the crowd. To do that on the podium of the Vuelta, flanked by flower girls and dignitaries -- with the whole world watching -- was awesome, although most people probably thought he had gone mad.
Simon is a sprinter normally but has ridden himself into the King of the Mountains jersey by going in long breakaways and mopping up points by cresting as many climbs as possible in first place. He even managed to win his first Grand Tour stage on a mountainous stage four from a long breakaway. Although former race leader Joaquin Rodriguez is only two points behind him overall, with no climbs today or tomorrow, Simon could relax, safe in the knowledge that nobody could take the jersey off him.
But he also knows he will have to do another long kamikaze-style breakaway on Saturday to garner as many points as possible before Rodriguez and the other real climbers do their thing on the summit finish to Bola de Mundo on Saturday.
Christophe (Riblon) and Blel (Kadri) are are struggling to get through this Vuelta. Max and (Rinaldo) Nocentini are going well and Ben Gasteur is doing a lot of work.
We were mostly out in the wide open countryside all day which meant that there was plenty of wind and plenty of fighting for shelter. The final two-thirds of the stage today were like a MotoGP as the Argos Shimano and Radioshack teams tore along at the front of the peloton to bring the break back and set up the stage for a bunch sprint finish. Just before we caught the breakaways, with around 15km to go, there was a strong crosswind and the bunch split in half under the pressure of the chase, leaving about 90 of us sprinting for the stage, eventually won by Radioshack's Daniele Benatti.
My team-mate Lloyd Mondory got fourth today without any help or big lead-out train. Lloyd does a lot of work for us and it's a pity we can't give him as much help as he needs in the final sprints but he did a great sprint and the team are pretty happy with the race so far even if we haven't won a stage yet, and I've dropped down the GC.
With such a hard day coming on Saturday, tomorrow's stage could go either way. The favourites could want to save their energy and let a big group of lowly-placed riders go up the road early on, gain loads of time and decide the stage, or else the sprinters' teams will control it and bring it together for the finish. I'd love to slip away in a large group but I know that I am being very tightly marked and probably won't get the opportunity.
Although the stage is mainly flat, there is a short, steep, 2km ramp to the finish in La Lastrilla. If all else fails, the plan is to have a go there, but anything could happen.
Vuelta a Espana,
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