Tuesday 19 November 2019

Nicolas Roche: 'Mondory had a go at us for not helping him in the finale'

Nicolas Roche

Although today's stage wasn't due to start until 7.0pm, we were up for breakfast at 9.0 and had an hour and a half's training done before lunch.

This morning, I expected my Ag2r La Mondiale team to lose around 50 seconds to the big guns in the team time trial, but after riding two laps of the course at 5.15pm, I started to think we might run them a little bit closer.

We took the first lap pretty easy to take in the corners, before getting a good feel for the course on a higher tempo second ride. It was pretty technical in parts, with tight turns, pinch points and a couple of little climbs to negotiate before a narrow cobbled section to the finish in the bull ring in Pamplona.

Not wanting to take any risks, our strategy was simply to make sure we had our two GC riders, John Gadret and Rinaldo Nocentini, still with us at the finish line. John is a super-light climber and the flat-out, big-gear churning needed for the team time trial is usually his big downfall but, fair play to him today, we never had to wait for him once and were able to keep a pretty good rhythm.

With the clock stopping on the fifth rider's wheel, we got to the foot of the last little hill having only lost one of our nine-strong team, but were soon left with the bare minimum when the ones who were suffering the most got blown out the back on the drag.

Maxime Bouet led us into the bottom a bit too quick and dropped everyone bar me. As I was second man in line, I was shouting at Max to ease up, but the combination of an aero helmet covering his ears and the noise of the crowd meant that he couldn't hear me and I had to ease up myself before towing John, Rinaldo and Blel Kadri back up to his rear wheel 300m later.

The five of us finished together and were happy enough to lose just 34 seconds to winners Movistar. Taking lots of risks and cutting every corner in order to shave a second off here and there is great when it works, but once in a while teams get it wrong and when they do it can be a disaster. Four of the Garmin Sharp team crashed on a roundabout with 5km to go today, while the narrow streets filled with technical turns and winding alleys also saw Astana lose Paulo Tiralongo and Enrico Gasparotto to another crash -- Gasparotto breaking his collarbone in three places.

World time trial champion Tony Martin and Omega Pharma Quickstep team-mate Zdenek Stybar were led the wrong way around a roundabout by a police motorbike midway through the stage and lost contact with their team-mates for good. As their strongest time triallists lost two minutes due to their detour, their team-mates lost out on a stage win by a mere 10 seconds.

As he led the fastest team across the line, 25-year-old Spaniard Jonathon Castroviejo of Movistar took the first red jersey of race leader on the first stage of his first Grand Tour.

After the team time trial, at 10.0 last night in the car park, it was still 39 degrees. I like the heat, but sometimes it can get a bit uncomfortable.

Even though it's like an oven outside, to minimise the risk of catching a cold during the race, we don't sleep with the air conditioning on. Instead, my roommate Max and I lash it on full blast as we go down for dinner and switch it off again when we get back. At least we come back to a cool room and are able to get to sleep.

Having started in temperatures of over 40 degrees this morning, a short shower of rain towards the end of today's stage was a welcome relief as was the race organisers' decision to abandon the usual rules which don't allow riders take on bottles in the final 25km.

With an earlier three-man break reeled in, there was a lot of pushing and shoving in the final 30km as everyone got set for a bunch sprint finish. We were supposed to lead Lloyd Mondory out for the sprint so after finishing 18th in the gallop, won by German John Degenkolb, he had a bit of a go at us on the bus for not helping him in the finale.

Lloyd said he'd asked for everyone to give him a hand, but he was isolated in the sprint. I told him I was at the front with a kilometre to go, but he was nowhere to be seen. We eventually agreed we were a bit disorganised, but it's only the first road stage so hopefully we'll have a few more chances to get our act together.

The first mountains of this year's Vuelta come as soon as tomorrow with a first-category summit finish in Eibar. Although I'm not really riding for the general classification in this race, it will be a good indicator of how my form is, so I will be trying to ride flat out.

Vuelta a Espana,

Live, British Eurosport, 3.0

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Champions Cup preview, the World Cup hangover and Joe Schmidt's next team

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport