Thursday 19 April 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'I was suddenly left in no man's land in a little group of four'

Monday, March 18 – Stage 1: Calella-Calella (159.3km)

After a disappointing 16th place overall at Paris-Nice, it took me a bit longer than anticipated to recover from 'the race to the sun' last week.

I took last Monday and Wednesday off before easing back into training ahead of today's opening stage of the Tour of Catalonia in Spain.

Another week-long WorldTour stage race, the Tour of Catalonia has attracted a very strong field including Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal, last year's world No 1 Joaquim Rodriguez and other overall contenders Alejandro Valverde, Robert Gesink and Michele Scarponi.

I had a quick chat with my cousin Dan Martin before the start this morning. This is probably Dan's favourite race of the year as he lives in Girona and trains on these roads regularly. In fact, he has finished second twice, was fourth last year and is another big favourite for overall victory. He looks really fit and lean and I think he's going to have a good Tour.

In the pre-stage briefing – held in a hired camper van as we don't have the team bus here this week – my Saxo-Tinkoff team-mates were told not to go with any early moves of less than eight or nine riders as they wouldn't have much chance of staying clear to the finish today.

With two mountain-top finishes and no individual time trial this week, it was all about staying in contention for myself and co-leader Chris Anker Sorensen, losing no time to the favourites and being in a good position heading into the big mountains on Wednesday. We were warned to be alert on the final climb and descent off the third category Alto de Collsacreu, which came with about 20km to go.

With the early break reeled in, I was really focused on that last climb and rode up it close to the front, just behind Dan. When Wiggins and a couple of his Sky team-mates shot up the outside of the group going over the top, I was ready for action on the descent, but a crash by one of the Francaise des Jeux riders on one of the corners caused mayhem on the downhill run into the finish.

The crash created a few seconds of panic, enough to see a dozen riders or so get a bit of daylight on the peloton.

I was suddenly left in no man's land in a little group of four with Rodriguez, Tom Danielson of Garmin and Marcus Burghardt of BMC.

Rodriguez flew down the descent and started to get across to the leaders but Danielson – maybe a bit rusty in his first race after a three-month ban for his involvement in the Lance Armstrong saga – couldn't hold on to the little Spaniard's wheel and a gap started to appear.

I knew I had to try to catch the front group but the roads were so narrow that, by the time I got around Danielson and Burghardt, the gap was too big. There was a little kicker of a climb for about 500m after the descent – where I sprinted like it was the finish line to try and get across – but with Olympic time-trial champion Wiggins tearing along at the head of the lead group up ahead, I just couldn't make it.

Danielson and myself were still the only ones riding behind for a long time before some of the Astana team came up and started doing a bit on the front.

I could hear Belgian Stijn Vandenbergh shouting into his radio to tell his team-mates to come up and give him a hand, but it took them five or six kilometres to get to the front because of the narrow roads, and we eventually lost 28 seconds to the Wiggins group by the finish, with Dan finishing fourth on the stage.

I'm raging to have lost 28 seconds to a baker's dozen that also included Gesink, Rodriguez, Valverde, Scarponi and most of the pre-race favourites. I don't think anyone who didn't finish in that front group today has a snowball's chance in hell of winning the race overall now.

My problem is that, at 28 seconds down, I'm still too close to the leaders to be allowed up the road in a breakaway group in the next few days, unless I lose a lot more time. I'm not sure what the options are yet – but that could be plan B.

Irish Independent

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