Monday 11 December 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'It's disappointing to see my good friend Philip having to stop'

Wednesday, September 8 - Stage 11: Vilanova i la Geltru to Andorra 208km

Igor Anton of Spain celebrates his victory in the 11th stage of La Vuelta from Vilanova i la Geltru to Andorra. Photo: Reuters
Igor Anton of Spain celebrates his victory in the 11th stage of La Vuelta from Vilanova i la Geltru to Andorra. Photo: Reuters

Nicolas Roche

This morning we left our hotel of the past three nights and my girlfriend Chiara came to the start for one more time before she left the race to go back to work in Italy.

Today's start was incredibly fast and for the first hour or so the peloton was really strung out in one long line and it took some time for the main break of the day to go clear.

Big groups of 15 to 20 riders were constantly attacking and being brought back. Former race leader Philippe Gilbert was really active again and won the first intermediate sprint after 45km, moving him up to second in the points competition.

Soon after, the sprint two riders -- Mikael Cherel of Francaise de Jeux and Johan Tschopp of Bouyges Telecom -- rode away; happy that they were no major threat to proceedings, the peloton eased up.

My Ag2r La Mondiale team were great again today, looking after me all day with bottles and riding alongside me to keep me out of the wind and conserve my energy before the final mountain to the ski station at Andorra. I ate and drank and relaxed a little bit as the two leaders worked hard up front to open up a good lead on the slumbering peloton.

While the bunch eased up, I took the opportunity to stop for a wee and while I was down the back of the bunch, I spent a bit of time talking to Philip Deignan again.

His team told him that while he had started the Vuelta sick, he might actually get better after a few days of racing, which is something I don't understand. Maybe if Philip only had a head cold he might have gotten better but he has been out for a lot of the season with a virus and has never reached his usual good form this year.

We were speaking for a few minutes about this and that, when he told me he was going to quit the Vuelta at the feed zone, halfway through the stage. I thought he was messing but it turned out he was serious.

I told him that I'd see him around during the winter. He was pretty disappointed at having to abandon the race and plans to have a few more medical tests to check out what is wrong with him.

Philip is a great friend of mine, so it's disappointing to see him having to stop. Hopefully he gets whatever is making him sick sorted out and gets back to top form pretty soon.

Once the two escapees had built up a lead of over 15 minutes, the Rabobank team of Denis Menchov suddenly decided it was time to give chase and the hammer went down in the peloton.

The speed went up dramatically straightaway. We spent around 100km in one long line and Biel Kadri, Christophe Riblon, Sebastian Hinault, and Jose Luis Arrieta did all the hard work keeping me out of the wind as we snaked along the valley before reaching the long climb up to Andorra. On the route map, the mountain is categorised as only being 10km long, but we were climbing for about the final 25km today.

As we flew through the border crossing into Andorra, the sprinters began to go out the back door and started preparing for their own torturous ascent as the teams of Rabobank, Euskaltel and HTC Columbia tore along at the front of the bunch, with Liquigas lurking just behind them. The gap had tumbled down to four minutes and 20 seconds.

As usual, all of the overall contenders wanted to be well positioned going into the mountain and Hubert Dupont, Ludovic Turpin and Rinaldo Nocentini were with me at the bottom of the climb. Guillaume Bonnafond was getting a bit tired.


He is 10 full days into the race now and he is only young, so I told him to take it easy and try to chill out a little bit. As we steamed up the climb, with 10km to go, the two leaders had a lead of a mere 25 seconds and we caught them three kilometres later. We knew that once the climb got steeper, it would be every man for himself.

Hubert rode alongside me until around six kilometres to go, as we continuously changed from the big ring to smaller gears and back, as the gradient increased and decreased.

I was feeling really good for most of the climb and as race leader Joaquin Rodriguez rode away with Vincenzo Nibali and Spanish climber Ezequiel Mosqeura, I was comfortable in the second group of maybe a dozen guys. Second-placed Igor Anton -- who went on to win today's stage from Mosqeura and Xavier Tondo, taking the overall race lead in the process -- and Luxembourg champion Franck Schleck tried to get across to the trio and it was every man for himself after that.

Some of the guys that had gone clear on the mountain blew their lights and came back to our group but when Tondo from Cervelo attacked us about two or three kilometres from the summit, I cracked.

I didn't even try to go with him and just rode at my own tempo, losing 40 seconds to Tondo by the top. There were only eight or nine of us left at that stage and I finished last of the group, 13th on the stage.

I'm a bit disappointed because I was hoping I could stay where I was overall. I only dropped one place to ninth, but my nearest rivals, the likes of Marzio Bruseghin and Ruben Plaza, gained time on me today.

I also let Schleck and 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre come back to me as well and I lost a bit of time to American Tom Danielson of Garmin too.

Sastre will probably get another 15 or 20 seconds on the climbs every day. I'm sure Schleck, a solid climber, will finish ahead of me too, and maybe even Bruseghin. The way he was climbing today, he was flying. But on the other hand, I think that some of them might have a bad day and lose some time so I think I will probably finish somewhere between eighth and 12th overall.

I'm really motivated to stay in the top 10, though, and every second is going to count if I'm going to do that. I lost time to my direct opponents today and it will be a big fight to hold onto that place, but I really want to fight to try and stay there

When we arrived in Andorra, my team-mates were looking forward to picking up some gifts for their families. As the stage starts a little bit later on Thursday and shouldn't be as hard as the past couple of days, they planned to have a short walk around the shops and buy some gifts.

But after we eventually found our way to our hotel, we found out that today is a bank holiday in Andorra and all the shops were closed. If you think I was disappointed after the stage, you should have seen their faces.

Vuelta a Espana,

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