Sunday 19 November 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'I really suffered like never before today'

Saturday August 28, Stage 1: Team time trial, Seville, 16km

FDJ rider Yauheni Hutarovich (right) crosses the finish line to win the second stage of the Tour of Spain between Sevilla and Marbella yesterday. Photo: Reuters
FDJ rider Yauheni Hutarovich (right) crosses the finish line to win the second stage of the Tour of Spain between Sevilla and Marbella yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Nicolas Roche

I think I ate something that didn't agree with me on the first night we arrived in Seville because I had been spewing my guts up until this morning. I haven't eaten properly in two days and although I felt a lot better today, I decided to skip lunch -- just in case.

This year's Vuelta started with a 16km team time trial at 10.0pm under the street lights of Seville, so we had a lot of time to kill during the day. I spent most of the day lazing around and in the afternoon reorganised some of the photos from my post Tour mini-break in Paris with Chiara on my laptop.

We were second team off, eight minutes after the Footon-Servetto squad and with such a late start we had dinner at 6.0pm before we went for a couple of practice laps of the course an hour later.

I suppose it's not often you read about me enjoying anything in this diary, but I was feeling good during the team time trial and actually enjoyed the stage.

In a team time trial, riders take turns at riding into the wind, with the rest of the team sheltering behind in the slipstream. If the team are good at this event, the workload is shared evenly and everybody arrives to the finish together with a very fast time.

The time is taken on the fifth member of the team across the line, so sometimes teams will leave riders to fend for themselves if they crash or puncture. If a team's leader crashes or punctures, though, everybody waits for him as a lone rider has no chance of catching a fast-moving team formation and his hopes of victory would be badly dented.

We had a lot of bad luck during tonight's stage, so hopefully that's it now for this Vuelta. For my Ag2r La Mondiale squad, disaster struck after just one kilometre when Rinaldo Nocentini punctured on the cobbled section just after the start. Guillaume Bonafond, Jose Luis Arteta and Sebastian Hinault were caught behind him and, as the rest of us didn't know Rinaldo had punctured, they had to ride around Nocentini and fight hard to get back on. The trio regained contact on a very twisty section after a few kilometres of chasing, but the effort took its toll soon after and all of a sudden we were down to the bare minimum of five riders.

I was pretty strong during the stage and Christophe Riblon and Biel Kadri were going very well too, with climbers Hubert Dupont and Ludovic Turpin giving their best as well. Towards the end, Hubert couldn't ride through in the line any more and had to sit at the back. We knew we couldn't afford to drop him, though, because his front wheel would be the one that stopped the clock.

We didn't do too badly for all the misfortune we had and, even though we finished 17th from 20 teams, I was happy that I felt good during the race. We arrived back to the hotel around midnight and after a cold shower, I had a supper of yoghurt and muesli and fell asleep surprisingly quickly. To add to his woes, Nocentini had a dope test after the stage and didn't get back to the hotel until 1.30 in the morning.

Sunday August 30, Stage 2: Alcala de Guadaira to Marbella, 173km

This morning, I was up around 8.0am and felt a lot better than the past couple of days so I had a good breakfast with some rice. I didn't enjoy today's stage at all, though, and was happy to see the finish in Marbella.

On the route map, we had one third-category climb after 75km, the 630-metre high Alto De Pruna, to contest today. But after that, if you looked at the profile of the stage, you'd see a much higher and longer climb of about 40km winding its way up towards the popular tourist village of Ronda that wasn't even given any mountain points on the stage.

I started to suffer from the heat after about 90km and, coincidentally, it lasted for the next 40km or so and I was in pain on the long climb. Normally, I love racing in the heat but today's 45-degree scorcher was too much. I really suffered like never before. I had goosebumps and a headache for a good hour and a half on the stage and I reckon I had a hunger flat a couple of times from not eating properly the past few days.

Luckily, the guys rallied around me and kept my morale up. In the blazing sun, they had to go back to the car for cold drinks every 20 minutes or so. I had a few mini cans of Coke to try and settle my stomach and probably used at least 12 bottles of water today. Sometimes, I just threw out a quarter full bottle when a new cold one arrived from the little cool box in the car. Some of them I just poured over my head to keep cool. Even though I ate plenty of food and drank loads of bottles, it took a long time to come around.

Once I got nearer the top, I started feel a bit better. But I only came around properly towards the end of the stage because the temperature had dropped about 10 degrees.

With about four kilometres to go, I had recovered enough to bring our sprinter, Seb Hinault, to the front with Biel Kadri and Guillaume Bonnafond but we went a bit early and got overrun about two kilometres later. When Seb started his sprint with about a kilometre to go, he pulled his foot out of his pedal and that was it for him. I just stayed where I was, crossing the line in 29th place to keep out of danger.

I feel a lot better now after having a nice cold shower in the team bus. I sat and relaxed for a few minutes, had a yoghurt and started to come back to life. I am in 101st place overall, 45 seconds down on leader Mark Cavendish, but there is a long way to go yet.

Monday's stage is another tough one, with the first category climb of Puerto De Leon after 102km and then a tricky descent to the finish in Malaga.

Irish Independent

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