Saturday 16 December 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'It was so hot you could fry an egg on the road'

Nicholas Roche

After an hour-and-a-half-long transfer on the team bus this morning, today saw the Vuelta venture into the high mountains for the first time this year.

The stage kicked off with a 31km, first-category climb right after the start and ended with the first mountaintop finish of this year's Vuelta at the summit of the 23km-long ascent of Sierra Nevada.

Although we were climbing from the drop of the flag, the stage started full gas until a group went clear about seven or eight kilometres into the day. The plan for my Ag2r La Mondiale team was to try and have one guy in the breakaway and then everyone else was to look after me. Guillaume Bonnafond made it into the seven-man front group and, after they went clear, the peloton relaxed a little bit and let them build up a lead of over seven minutes at one point.

The Movistar team of race leader Pablo Lastras set the tempo on the first mountain and down the really dodgy 30km-long gravel-strewn descent that followed.

It was scorching hot again today, with the temperatures in the mid 40s. If I was lying on the beach, I wouldn't have lasted more than 10 minutes in the sun yet I spent five hours riding in it today. I reckon it was so hot you could fry an egg on the road... if you had an egg.

As the stage wore on, Bonnafond and his breakaway partners' lead gradually came down until they had just over two minutes as we began the final climb to Sierra Nevada. I rode in about seventh or eighth position for most of the way up the drag, with team-mate Mathieu Perget alongside me as the Rabobank team set a pretty fast tempo from the bottom.

Perget and the rest of the guys did a good job for me today, keeping me out of the wind and getting me bottles. We had a soigneur on the climbs and Perget would grab a bottle from him and hand it to me. He even gave me half his own bottle on the last climb today.

The climb to Sierra Nevada was a fast one and I fiddled around with my gears trying to find the right one. I put it in the big ring a couple of times, only to have to drop it back down a few hundred metres later on. I always have trouble with hose-long, draggy climbs and prefer the shorter, steeper ones.

Still, I was feeling okay, riding in the top nine or 10 as Liquigas took over on the front in the last 10km and the speed went up a notch. Last year's winner, Vincenzo Nibali, was the first of our group to attack with about 6km to go but I was able to hold the pace and just sat in the wheels as the group whittled itself down to about 40 riders.

I was feeling okay until about a kilometre and a half from the summit and then I don't really know what happened. I just went from the front of the group to the back in a flash. All of a sudden, I'd been dropped and then completely blew.

It's weird, it's not like I was dropped on a really steep section with a group of other riders. I got dropped on my own and was left on my own to ride to the finish. The team rode really well for me today and I'm really disappointed that I couldn't stay with the top guys on the climb. I thought I'd still finish in the top 20 or so but was 36th on the stage and lost 51 seconds to stage winner Daniel Moreno of Katusha.

Even though I lost time today, I actually moved up 14 places to 26th overall. I know there are a lot of guys ahead of me who won't be there in three weeks' time and that losing 51 seconds is not the end of the world. Hopefully, I'll be able to recover and bounce back but at the moment I'm pretty disappointed. This season has been really strange for me. I'm usually very consistent over the whole year. I'm always there or thereabouts on these type of days. This year, though, one day I'm good, the next day I'm bad, the next day I'm good again.

If I'd finished around 20th today it wouldn't have been too bad but 36th is not great at all. I'm more p****d off than physically tired and it's too early in the race to change the plan so I'll keep on fighting and hopefully I can claw my way back up on the GC.

I know Wednesday's finish to Valdepenas de Jaen as I was eighth on the same stage last year. If I'm 50th or something on Wednesday, maybe I'll start thinking about changing tactics and aiming for a stage win instead.

While I was getting dropped today, my cousin Dan Martin was busy showing off his climbing skills and took third on the stage. He's moved up to 11th overall and as far as I can work out will be wearing the white jersey of best all-rounder on Wednesday, which is pretty cool.

Dan is riding really well and I think he has a great chance to do something on the GC in this Vuelta and Wednesday is another stage that suits him. We're staying in the same hotel tonight so hopefully we'll get to have a chat.

Vuelta a Espana,

Live, Eurosport, 3.0

Irish Independent

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