Monday 20 November 2017

Nicolas Roche: ‘My head is telling me I’m the boss but my legs aren’t listening’

Tour of Catalonia Diary

Australia's Matthew Goss celebrates on the podium with second-placed Fabian Cancellara (left) and third-placed Philippe
Gilbert after the Milan-Sanremo Classic on Saturday. Photo: Reuters
Australia's Matthew Goss celebrates on the podium with second-placed Fabian Cancellara (left) and third-placed Philippe Gilbert after the Milan-Sanremo Classic on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Nicolas Roche

Today I arrived in Spain for another week-long stage race.

This year is the 100th edition of the Volta a Catalunya, or Tour of Catalonia, which may account for its seemingly tougher profile than last year’s edition.

Always top heavy with mountains, this year’s race drops its usual time trial stage in favour of an extra day of climbing, which means we tackle 16 climbs over the course of seven days, including the tough mountain top finish to the ski station in Andorra on Wednesday.

Although national champion Matt Brammeier’s race program has been changed over the weekend, I won’t be the only Irish rider on the start line as my cousin Dan Martin and my national team room-mate Philip Deignan are both riding and should be going well.

Last year, after a good start to the season, I took four top-10 stage placings in Catalunya, including third on the final stage. I also finished fifth overall, my best ever result at a ProTour stage race.

This time around, things are different. I was forced to watch the final stage of my last race, Paris-Nice, from behind the barriers after abandoning the race the previous day.

I didn’t blow on the penultimate stage because I was tired. We were only 80km into the race and I’d been going pretty well the day before. I’ve come to the conclusion that my bad performance that day was down to a combination of overtraining after my injury and under-eating during the week.

I’m one of two protected riders on my Ag2r La Mondiale team for the week, along with Blel Kadri. It’s strange to be in this position, unsure of my condition going into the race. In previous years, I went into this race knowing I would be up the front every day. Now I don’t know if I’ll be good one day and bad the next or how my form will be.

It’s Blel’s first role as a protected rider. I had a good talk with him on the team bus on the way from the airport and he’s not that excited by the prospect. Blel is a great little rider and he’s been progressing with every race over the past year or so and deserves his chance of being leader.

But he’d rather try and get up the road a few days and go for a stage win than try and ride consistently all week and fight for 10th or fifth overall. Hopefully I’ll be good enough that we won’t need him to ride for GC and he can get his chance at grabbing a stage win.

I finished last season in the best form of my career but now, a few months later, I’m struggling to find form after missing a couple of training weeks with a knee injury in winter.

I’m not progressing as much as I want to which leaves me feeling a combination of embarrassment and frustration.

On the bike, my head is telling me that I’m the boss and I should be riding strong and hard, but my legs aren’t listening and I find myself having to drop down a gear instead of shifting up.

I’d like to finish close to the top 15 overall here, which I realise is very optimistic for somebody who abandoned Paris-Nice last week and now faces the likes of Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans and Ivan Basso in one of the toughest stage races in Europe.

I’d like to at least hang on in contention for a good overall placing until Wednesday and the stage to Andorra, just for the head if nothing else.

The good thing about this race is that I won’t be long finding out how I’m going, as we have two first-category climbs on day one on Monday, one of which is 11km long.

I was getting a bit worried about it but now I realise there’s nothing I can do and my form will come when it comes.

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