Wednesday 22 November 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'I know the guys gave it 100pc but we just were not strong enough'

Nicolas Roche

As my team-mate Matteo Montaguti's girlfriend arrived on the race for two days last night, I gave him my single room and moved in with 31-year-old Frenchman David Lelay.

This morning, my new room-mate and I went out for an hour after breakfast just to turn the legs. After a shower and lunch we left the hotel at 2.0 for the time trial course and a quick briefing. An hour later, we rode a couple of laps of the course, before getting changed in the team bus and warming up for the stage.

We'd had a look at the course on Friday but it was in the middle of heavy traffic and we didn't get to see all of it. But when we got to ride the full route, we were surprised by how technical it was. The start ramp was right on the beach but we had a pretty stiff hill straight afterwards and some of the corners had sand blown onto them, so it was dodgy enough in places.

Our sprinter, Lloyd Mondory, led us into the first roundabout. His job was to get us up to pace and then swing off to the back of the line. I did a very long turn myself up the first climb and then slotted into the middle of the line rather than the back as the descent was a bit twisty and I wanted to make sure I was still in contact coming out of the corners.

The team didn't take any risks on the descent and we lost a bit of time on the long, flat section. I was telling the guys to keep the turns short at the front because some of them were staying there too long and although they were trying to push the pace, we were losing speed.

The actual time trial didn't go too badly. We made a few mistakes but the main problem was that we weren't quick enough. We dropped Lloyd, Mathieu Perget and Steve Hounard but overall we had no issues, nobody panicked and six of our nine-man team finished together.

If someone had offered me a guarantee that my Ag2r La Mondiale team would finish on the same time as Team Sky today, I would have snapped at it. They are one of the best squads in the world at this discipline but they had a bit of a shambles of a time trial after a crash in the first kilometre and finished with the bare minimum of five riders.

On Saturday I said I would be happy if we finished within a minute of the winning team's time but I didn't realise that losing a minute would mean we would have been Paddy last. Instead we lost 42 seconds to the Leopard-Trek team of new race leader Jakob Fuglsang.

I was hoping we would finish in the top 10 but we finished 19th out of 22 teams. Last year we were 17th. It's a bit disappointing but, on the other hand, I know the guys gave their all so it's hard for me to be harsh. Everybody gave 100pc but we just weren't strong enough.

At this point in the race, 42 seconds is not going to make much difference, especially with climbs like the ultra-steep Angliru to come. A few years ago I was 14th on that stage and still lost five minutes to Contador.

My physio from Cannes, Alex, arrived on the Vuelta last night to work with the team. He is an osteopath who specialises in treating racehorses and new-born babies. I don't know where I fit into that equation but he has treated me since I started racing in France as a teenager and it's great to have him around.

As I hadn't seen him since before the Tour, Alex brought me an Ice Watch in the colours of the Irish flag as a belated birthday present. They are all the rage nowadays with celebrities like Eminem and the Black Eyed Peas wearing them. In the peloton, Philippe Gilbert has one in the Belgian champion's colours. The only reason I hadn't bought one myself is because everybody seems to have one but now I have another way of wearing the Irish colours in a race, so I'm delighted with mine.

Today's road stage was nowhere near as crazy as the opening stage of the Tour and apart from a narrow twisting 800m long section before the last climb, the stage was relatively stress-free with big open roads and a calmer ambience in the peloton and I sat near the front of the bunch all day with the team all around me.

We had Steve Hounard go up the road in a four-man move early on today and I had a bit of a discussion with the team managers about it afterwards. Steve is riding his first three-week stage race and while the team were happy with the publicity and TV time, I thought he would have been better off saving his energy as today was a day for the sprinters and there are a couple of hard days ahead, including the climb to Sierra Nevada on Tuesday.

But they said it was part of Steve's job as a young rider and that I had gone through the same things myself in my early years, which I suppose is true and I was probably being a bit harsh.


I was a little bit isolated in the last 10km but was still up near the front as we went under the red kite signalling the last kilometre of the stage.

I knew there was a bit of a kick up to the finish inside the final kilometre, followed by a couple of hundred metres of flat to the line. With about 700m to go, I jumped up the right hand side of the bunch but the climb was a little bit steeper than I anticipated and I was slightly over-geared. I didn't have the strength to get further than about third in line and would have been better off waiting until the very top and then jumping.

In the end, I finished 23rd on the stage behind Aussie sprinter and one of my best friends Chris Sutton of Team Sky. A former training partner of mine when I lived in Nice, we hadn't seen each other in months before the start of this Vuelta and had a good catch-up yesterday. CJ is a nice guy and today is his first Grand Tour stage win so he can be pretty pleased with himself tonight.

I love the Vuelta and want to ride a bit aggressively here so I've decided to play this week by ear and go on how I feel and might have a go in the sprint again tomorrow.

Vuelta a Espana

Live, Eurosport, 3.0

Irish Independent

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