Monday 19 March 2018

Nicolas Roche: ‘I’ve fought like a dog to get fifth and I’m keeping it’

Tuesday, September 16: Rest Day

Nicolas Roche will be hoping to take fourth place from Franck Schleck in La Vuelta's time trial today. UNIPUBLIC
Nicolas Roche will be hoping to take fourth place from Franck Schleck in La Vuelta's time trial today. UNIPUBLIC

After Monday's mountain stage, we had a three-and-a-half-hour transfer to our next hotel and today's rest day. As I sat in the front of the team bus, with my legs stretched across the seats opposite, my dad called from Paris and we had a chat about the rest day.

Normally, I do an hour-and-a-half's ride in the morning with the guys but today I also wanted to ride Wednesday's time trial course in the afternoon on my own.

Dad didn't agree with me, though. He said there was no point in having to go out twice on a rest day and I should just ride the time trial course. In the end, I agreed with him.

After breakfast, I hopped in the team car for a 50-minute drive to the course. The 46km course is on big, wide main roads, with long straights and only five corners on the whole lap.

I did a lap on my road bike first, then another, faster, lap on my time trial bike, to get used to the stretched-out, more aerodynamic position. Then I put in two hard 10km sessions behind the car, which made my legs hurt, and the morning flew by. By the time I was ready for lunch, it was 3.0.

Although it's late in the evening here now, I haven't seen any of the guys on the team yet today. I got up earlier than them and by the time I came back from training, they were already back in their rooms. Some of them never left, except to go down for food.

Even though we're only in the bedrooms beside each other, we're so tired now that we couldn't be bothered walking around. Instead, we just lie on our beds all day, reading, watching TV, surfing the internet or listening to music. We'll see each other at dinner tonight.

I spent this afternoon sitting on the floor, sorting out my suitcase for the time trial.

I have four distinct piles of clothes for Wednesday alone. I have one pile for the morning, one for the warm-up, another one for the time trial itself, and yet another one for after the stage. Wednesday is going to be a pressure day for me, but I have to admit most of the pressure is my own fault.

I came into this Vuelta aiming to take a top-15 placing overall, possibly a top 10. Last week, I thought that I would be fighting for somewhere between ninth and 11th place in this time trial. Now, I'm fighting to stay in fifth place, another big step up.

Now that I'm there, though, I'm not thinking that if I drop a few places I'll still finish in the top 10. Hell, no! I've spent two and a half weeks fighting like a dog through all the mountains to get here, and I'm keeping this spot.

Not only that, I'm thinking maybe I can move up to fourth. If I do one of my best time trials, I think I can overtake Franck Schleck.

The Luxembourg champion will start the stage 45 seconds ahead of me on GC and there is a chance, albeit a little one, that I could take enough time out of him.

It's that little chance that keeps me motivated. He's not the best time triallist in the world, but still took a top-five spot at the Tour de France last year, so I know I will have to pull out a great ride to move up.

The cheeky side of my mind is even thinking that if I ride a great time trial, I could challenge for a place on the podium in this Vuelta.


There is another side of me, though, saying: 'Stay focused, defend your fifth place as best as possible and make sure that everything goes right. There are another five days to go and finishing fifth would be absolutely brilliant.'

I'm very conscious of the fact that even if I do overtake Schleck after the time trial, we have a really tough mountain stage on Saturday -- with a 20km climb to the finish -- which plays into his hands again.

My team-mate Christophe Riblon will start well before me. He will try to ride the time trial flat-out and give me an indication of what I need to do.

Some days I beat Christophe in these races, some days he beats me. I usually do okay once the time trial is long enough. I did okay at the Vuelta a couple of years ago and even at the Tour this year.

I'm not going to win the stage or anything, but I don't have to. All I have to do is try and gain time, or at least not lose any, to my nearest rivals on the overall classification.

Everybody is encouraging me to stay focused and relaxed and I'm as motivated as I can be. If I'm still in the same position at the end of the time trial, I'll be happy enough.

Irish Independent

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