Nicolas Roche: ‘It was so fast and windy we couldn’t talk’
Stage 4, Thursday, March 24, La Seu D'Urgell - El Vendrell 195km
Last night my Ag2r La Mondiale team were staying in the same place as the Radioshack team and after dinner I had a good chat with Philip Deignan over a decaf in the lobby of our hotel.
It's great to have two other Irish riders in the peloton this week, even if all we do is slag each other. Our main point of conversation last night, though, was how well Dan Martin looks to be going and how great it would be if he could get a podium spot on this race.
As the previous stage had ended at an Andorran ski station, this morning us cyclists mingled among the ski-tourists at breakfast. It was funny to watch the holiday-makers, complete with hefty ski suits, helmets, skis and snow boards, queue for the ski lift outside the hotel as we donned shorts and jerseys on the team bus parked alongside.
With just one third-category climb on today's stage, we knew it would more than likely end in a sprint, but there was always a chance a large group would go clear and contest the stage between them.
We did the first 85km at a 48kph average speed, so it was pretty quick this morning. I tried to get in the early break but I was only interested in going with big moves as I knew that the more riders in the group, the better chance we would have of staying away to the finish.
I got into a few moves, but there was always a stall and we never stayed away longer than a couple of kilometres. A crash after 29km took down my team-mate Max Bouet and about 10 others, including Tirreno-Adriatico winner Cadel Evans.
It took 55km for the break of the day to form. The four escapees built up a lead of four minutes at one point, but the sprinters' teams were keen to make the most of the flat stage and brought the last of them back into the fold with 15km to go.
Once the break went, we all just looked after Blel Kadri, who is now lying 12th overall. Today was so fast and so windy there was no time for talking in the bunch. I had a two-second chat with Dan at one point but most of the day was spent staying out of the wind and protecting Blel.
Blel is happy enough in his new role as team leader. He's fully concentrated and is doing a good job. He is still learning, though, and today when the team was bringing him back up the peloton he was riding out in the wind rather than getting shelter off the guys.
Every day we chat together and I try to give him a few tips. In the final sprint, the guys looked after Blel while I did my own thing in the gallop. The last couple of kilometres were pretty hectic. As stage-one winner Alesandro Petacchi had abandoned during the stage, the Garmin-Cervelo, Movistar and Sky teams saw their opportunity to provide the day's stage winner and all contributed to the pace-setting at the front.
I found a little opening with a kilometre to go and moved up a bit nearer the top 10 in the line. But then we dipped under a narrow bridge and the road went from two lanes into one lane and everybody basically stayed in whatever position they were in to the line.
I didn't make the top 10, taking 11th on the stage, but Dan finished one place in front of me. This left me at 40th overall, with Dan sitting pretty in fourth. Philip finished in 119th today to leave him 68th. There is a bit of pressure on us now to get a few UCI points. You only get points for a top five on the stage or top 10 overall and as we're not a team that has a superstar like Petacchi or Contador, we always have to chase points.
Friday looks like being another hard day and I'll try and get in the break if I can.