Nicolas Roche: 'I want to try go for a stage win in these last few days'
Last night was Dmitri Champion's birthday, so we had a glass of champagne at dinner. Unfortunately the choice of cakes left a lot to be desired, so we opted not to eat one rather than eat one we didn't really want to.
This morning we started at Faustino V, home of the famous Spanish wines. The soigneurs were going to the shops to get some wine before the start and as I love Spanish wine, I asked them to buy me two boxes. One of them was part of a 75th anniversary collection, so hopefully that will be really nice, whenever I get the chance to drink it.
Today was the final mountain-top finish of this year's Tour of Spain. Although we had two bigger mountains before it, the final 5km climb to the line at Pena Cabarga was the last big opportunity for riders like second-placed Chris Froome and third-placed Bradley Wiggins to overthrow race leader Juan Jose Cobo and take over the red jersey, so everyone was expecting fireworks at the end of the stage.
But the fuse was lit in the opening kilometres when a large group of 26 riders, including my team-mate Matteo Montaguti, went clear and the ensuing chase saw us cover 48km in the first hour.
The second hour wasn't much better. Second in the King of the Mountains competition, Matteo took maximum points on the third category Portillo de Bustos after 82km to close the gap a little to leader David Moncoutie.
Behind, though, we were flat out and there were groups everywhere. After 100km Dutch rider Wouter Poels, who had begun the day in 10th place overall, was dropped and his whole Vaconsoleil team had to go back for him. As the break dangled 40 seconds ahead, Poels and the rest of his team were another 45 seconds behind us.
About 10km later, Poels and his team-mates caught a lucky break and regained contact when we caught the big breakaway group and there was a slight stall in the peloton, the only let-up of the day.
Mostly, though, the racing was eyeballs-out all day today, so fast, in fact, that we arrived at the finish an hour ahead of schedule. There were maybe five minutes -- after we caught Matteo's group, only for another group to go clear -- where everyone just had enough and took a few minutes to stop for a wee and grab bottles from the team cars. After that, it was back to the grindstone.
The new six-man break contained another team-mate of mine, Guillaume Bonnafond, but they were kept on a tight leash by the Geox and Katusha teams as we crested the second category Portillo de Lunada after 162km and, after an 85kph descent, the sextet were reeled in with 15km to go.
Although there were valuable time bonuses on offer for the first three riders into Solares, with 11km to go, the Katusha team led the peloton through it so fast that nobody even thought about contesting the sprint.
After the sprint line, the Geox team of race leader Juan Jose Cobo went to the front. We were doing 70kph on the flat after the Lotto team of Jurgen Van Den Broeck hit the front with 8km to go before Denis Menchov of Geox took over for the race leader at the foot of the final climb.
I was pretty full of gas, but feeling okay on the climb. I wanted to ride it steady, as I knew I wouldn't be able to handle the stop-start rhythm of the little climbers when they started jumping out of the group.
When there was a big stall with 5km to go, I just kept my pace and moved from the back of the lead group. But my move coincided with an attack off the front by my cousin Dan Martin of Garmin Cervelo, so when I got to the front, I just moved over to the left and drifted onto the second wheel in line.
Even though Marzio Bruseghin and Chris Anker Sorenson got across to him, Dan stayed clear until 2.5km to go, where it got really steep.
As the gradient hit 20pc with a kilometre and a half to go, I lost contact, but Dan held on for fourth on the stage, another really great result.
Having finished fifth on the same climb last year, I was pretty confident that I could finish in the top 12 on today's stage, but could only manage 17th. Even so, I moved up a place on the overall to 17th, while Dan also moved up one to 14th. I could have maybe moved up another one, but Marzio Bruseghin passed me with a kilometre to go and stayed ahead of me.
While I'm not in the form of my life or anything near it, I'm feeling okay and I'll try to fight every day and give the best of myself for the final four stages. I'm not enjoying this Vuelta that much. It's always more enjoyable when you have the legs to go on the attack.
Even to do what Dan did today would have been great. I'd have loved to have had a go, even if it meant getting caught and finishing 20th on the stage, but I didn't have the legs to attack or even change rhythm and had to follow wheels to the top.
I want to try to go for a stage in these last few days. I'm hoping to ride aggressively and maybe I'll get a bit of luck. I don't think there's much risk of me losing my 17th place overall unless some guys who are four or five minutes behind me, get into a break that gains time and stays clear to the finish. The only way to avoid that is if I'm in the breakaway myself.
Vuelta a Espana,
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