Monday 23 April 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'I got to within 300m of the stage win before the sprinters stormed past'

Tour of Catalonia Saturday, March 26, Stage 6: Tarragona - Mollet0del-Valles 195KM

Nicolas Roche

Overnight, the race organisers took out one 8km mountain and replaced it with two 6km climbs, which made today's penultimate stage 10km longer. Although a group got up the road early on, the day ended in another bunch sprint in Tarragona.

I was on the wheel of stage winner, Spanish sprinter Jose Rojas Gil with 2km to go but I lost it shortly afterwards through over-eagerness to move up and ended up drifting back a few places instead.

In the road book it said the final corner was 300m from the line. With about 10km to go on the stage, however, my team manager came over the radio and told us that one of the soigneurs at the finish had phoned him to say the line was actually 800m from the last corner.

Before the corner, I thought I was in a good position. I reckoned a few of the lead-out guys ahead of me would swing off and I'd be in a pretty good position by the time the gallop started.

I saw Christian Vande Velde lead my cousin Dan Martin into the corner in a great position and Dan took fourth on the stage. Sebastien Minard led me into the bend but when I looked up on exiting the corner, I could see the finishing banner and there was no way it was 800m away. I had neither the time nor the legs to move up any further in the short sprint and crossed the line 13th.

I was pretty angry with guys about the phone call to the car. I told them that it mightn't have mattered today as I didn't have the legs to win the stage anyway, but if I or anyone else was going well enough then these are the little details that could mean the difference between winning and losing the stage.

It happened at the Vuelta last year when the soigneurs said the final hill wasn't very long and ended up costing me a few seconds as I attacked before it. I'm now 39th overall, Dan is fourth.

The start of the today's stage was horrendous. It was raining and the combination of tight corners and diesel on the roads from the city centre traffic meant that it was pretty hard just to stay upright. A massive crash split the bunch in three after about 15km.

While Guillaume had to abandon with his injuries from the crash, Blel was in the front group, where Dan's Garmin-Cervelo team were pulling really hard as a lot of the team leaders were caught in the second group with me. After a hard chase we all regrouped and it stayed together for another 35km or so before people started attacking again.

After 53km, I got away with Thomas Rohregger and Eugeni Petrov. A few minutes later, three more riders came across to leave six of us.

Just after we went clear, I could hear in my earpiece that the team were having a bit of a panic at the back. Blel had stopped for a call of nature and upon remounting his bike, noticed his stem had broken. The cars had all gone by and he had to wait on the second team car, which was at the back of the cavalcade.

He was way behind. Even though all the guys waited for him, Blel panicked about losing his 12th place overall. He was so anxious to get back to the peleton he almost dropped the rest of the team. Up front, we rode pretty well together but the Lampre team rode tempo at the front of the peleton and kept us on a tight leash, never giving us much more than a minute and a half.

Although the peloton were playing cat and mouse with us, I was with some really strong riders and we were going full gas in the hope of staying away to the finish. We had 30 seconds going into the finishing circuit and I attacked the break with 3km to go. My fellow escapees chased hard and recaptured me just 2km from the line.

With their prey caught and the bunch now just 15 seconds behind and closing, the lead group stalled momentarily... so I attacked them again.

The last 2km were pretty slippery and I had to take a few risks on some of the corners, in the hope that I would be able to get around them quicker than a big bunch.

As the peloton swallowed up my breakaway partners, I had about 10 seconds lead and was riding flat out towards the finish, with just the adrenalin of a possible stage win to keep me going. I got to within 300m of the line before the sprinters stormed past. My legs empty, I sat up and eased my way to the line, exhausted.

I ended the race in 33rd place overall, 3'29" down on overall winner Alberto Contador. Levi Leipheimer didn't take to the start this morning as he had been sick overnight, which meant that Dan finished the race on the podium, in third. He really deserves it.

He knew he was on the same time as fourth-placed Chris Horner of Radioshack so he went for the sprints during the week as his final position would be decided on countback. A pure climber, Dan even took fourth in a bunch sprint on Saturday. Philip Deignan finished 55th overall.

I was hoping to be climbing a bit better this week, but overall I was a lot more competitive than I was at Paris-Nice. Today I rode really hard. The fact we could hold a small gap for so long and that I was able to attack towards the end gave me a bit of confidence.

My team has had a pretty good week. We've been in breakaways, took top tens on stages and had 12th overall.

Next up for me are the one day races: Paris-Camembert, Tour de Finisterre, Fleche-Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Irish Independent

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