Saturday 20 January 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'My legs weren't even sore, just empty. I simply couldn't push any harder'

Wednesday, March 20 Stage 3: Vidreres-Vallter 2000/Setcases 180.1km

Nicolas Roche
Nicolas Roche

After giving out about having to eat outside in a tent as our overnight hotel didn't have a restaurant, last night's evening meal really surprised us and the food was pretty decent.

Last year the teams had to eat outside in the snow and the food was miserable, with the riders handing an angry letter to the race organisers after some of them got sick. This time around, though, they must have hired in some external caterers or something because everything was fine. Even the weather was good.

Today's stage was the biggest that most of the peloton have ridden this season, with two first-category climbs coming before the long slog to the ski station finish at Vallter 2000.

The break went pretty early and, as Sky took control, my Saxo-Tinkoff team-mates followed orders and stayed around me, kept me sheltered from the wind and fed and watered so that I would arrive at the bottom of the final mountain ready to get a result.

Today was a bit of a f*** up in that respect. I was all set mentally for a good ride. There was a 25km descent before the penultimate climb, the first-category Tunnel Callabos, and I had the whole team around me there.

We knew it was very important to get into a good position on the descent because even though we had two more mountains to climb, the last two came one after another with no descent in between, which meant we had 40km of climbing ahead of us to the finish.

bottom

The guys rode really well to get me into a good position for the all-important climb to the finish and when we hit the bottom I was feeling okay. There was a strong headwind, so I decided not to ride as near to the front as I usually do and sat back in about 15th place, where there was a bit more shelter.

The pace was steady enough as we slowly reeled in the breakaways, until Jurgen Vandenbroucke attacked with about 4km to go. When the Belgian got 18 seconds' advantage, Sky upped the pace a little bit to bring him back, and about a kilometre later it was lights out for me and I went out the back door of the front group. It was a big disappointment to have to watch the leaders ride away because I thought I was going okay. It was strange; I hadn't been feeling like I was going flat out.

I didn't have the hunger knock or 'bonk' because I ate loads all day. My legs weren't even sore, just empty. I simply couldn't push any harder.

My first thought was that maybe I've been too keen to impress my new team in the early races; that I've maybe burned myself out a bit in training.

At 2,200m high, today's finish was the highest we've been all season – even in the Tour we only go to that height maybe once or twice. Maybe the altitude was a factor for me, I honestly don't know. I could spend the whole night looking for excuses, but I've felt way better out training than I do here. I'm feeling miserable.

I thought I was sharper going into my last two races, but days like today have left me pretty disillusioned. I wish I knew what was wrong. I felt like I was flying in February, even though I know the Tour of Mediterranean and the Tour du Haut Var are not at the same level as Catalunya or Paris-Nice.

The fact remains that I lost two minutes and 41 seconds to stage winner Nairo Quintana today and am now three minutes and seven seconds off new race leader Alejandro Valverde.

Being three minutes down is probably not enough to be allowed up the road without a fight, but I want to give it a go. Tomorrow is even harder, with some savage climbing to be done ahead of another mountain-top finish.

It will be hard to get up the road as there's sure to be plenty of people with the same idea and, as the gaps still aren't that big between the main protagonists, it's likely that the race will still come back together on the last climb as it did today.

Either way, I'm going to have to change tactics now. It's a long time since I've fought to be in a breakaway, but I'm going to have to try and catch one in the next four days.

Tour of Catalonia,

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Irish Independent

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