Monday 22 January 2018

Nicolas Roche: ‘I radioed in to say sorry for my bad sprint’

Tour of Catalonia diary: Stage 1 - Monday, March 21 Lloret de Mar, 116.9km

Reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador of Spain rides in the peloton during the 166km first stage at the Tour of Catalonia in Lloret de Mar yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador of Spain rides in the peloton during the 166km first stage at the Tour of Catalonia in Lloret de Mar yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Nicolas Roche

All of the teams on this year’s Tour stayed in the same hotel last night, which meant that I was able to have a good chat with my cousinDaniel Martin after dinner.

Riding for the Garmin-Cervelo team, Dan has been based in Girona for the past three years. This is his ‘home’ race now. He trains on these climbs all of the time and he’s really looking forward to the week.

I also spoke to Philip Deignan after breakfast. I haven’t seen much of Philip yet this season so we had a bit of a catch up.

About 25km into today’s opening stage, my team-mate Ben Gastauer went clear with two others, HTC Highroad’s Gatis Smukulis and Julian Sanchez of the second division Caja Rural team.

The trio were chased by Javier Ramirez, but the Spaniard spent around 40km dangling behind them in no man’s land before making contact.

By the time he joined the leaders over the top of the first mountain of the day, the first-category Alt San Hilari after 65km, the breakaways had a whopping 14 and a half minutes lead on the peloton, who were about to start upping the pace.

The Katusha team began the chase and I was feeling pretty okay on the climb. We had been warned by our team manager that the descent was pretty terrible but I had Maxime Bouet and Guillaume Bonnafond with me and even though the road was strewn with gravel and sand, we descended in the top 10 and I felt secure.

By the time we got to the next climb, the first-category Alt de Sant Grau, the Katusha boys had the help of Saxo Bank, Lampre and Liquigas at the front and had soon carved into the tiring quartet’s lead.

Up front, the day’s efforts had taken their toll on Sanchez and Ramirez, and Ben was left alone to fend off the peloton with just Smukulis to help him. Their advantage had been whittled down to just under two minutes with 20km to go and it wasn’t looking good for them.

On the ascent, I had Sebastien Minard alongside and we were in a good position. Over the top, David Moncoutie of Cofidis attacked. He was quickly joined by Alberto Contador, whose presence up front put most of the top riders on red alert and saw Scarponi, Evans, Basso and Dan all jump across the gap.

Dan looks to be flying. He closed the gap pretty quick and seems to be in top form.

I was near the front when Contador jumped but the guy in front of me didn’t go and I stalled a bit and hadn’t the legs to get across the gap. I was pretty busy just trying to hang on. I seem to be able to ride at about 80pc now but can’t get that little bit extra.

My team-mate Blel Kadri made the move but the group only got a handful of seconds and we caught them on the descent to the finish.

With 6km to go, Ben and Smukulis were still hanging on out front but just had 50 seconds lead now. The Lampre team led the chase for their sprinter Alessandro Petacchi behind as Sebastien kept me near the front of the bunch.


In the final kilometre, a fatigued Ben was dropped by his Latvian breakaway partner and we could see both of them dangling ahead.

Seb had brought me to the front but I didn’t want to lead the sprint out and be the first one to come by Ben, so I told Seb to hold his sprint for another few metres, which was a mistake.

Ben was going to be caught a few seconds later by somebody else anyway, and soon we were swamped by a host of sprinters from behind. I got boxed in and drifted back to 15th or 20th, but Sebastian still thought I was on his wheel and stayed in fourth or fifth in the line.

As we had a strong tailwind, I should have just told Seb to put the hammer down and he could have easily led me out for a long time. We passed Ben with 500m to go. Going into the final roundabout, Max flew by on the inside of the bunch as everybody braked. I don’t know how he got around it but he led me out again before someone barged me off his wheel with 300m to go.

Max kept sprinting, thinking I was still behind him and got sixth on the stage. Sebastian was 12th and I finished 18th, four behind Dan.

I had told the team that I was motivated, that I was going to do the sprint and to stay with me at the finish. I had great support from the guys in the finale, so I was really disappointed not to have made the most of it. I just didn’t have the confidence.

Sometimes I make the mistake of going too early but today I left it way too late. The guys in the team car didn’t know Ben had been caught until I radioed to the rest of the lads to say sorry for my bad sprint. Smukulis held on to become the first race leader of this year’s Volta a Catalunya, while Ben got the intermediate sprints jersey for his troubles.

I didn’t hang around too long on the bus after. Like a stroppy teenager, I just grabbed a bottle of water, a banana and my suitcase and dragged it into my room for a shower and an autopsy into my missed opportunity.

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