Sunday 18 March 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'Please not now... I'm in a good group in a Classic and I get cramp'

Nicolas Roche on the final climb of the Jaizkibel in the Clasica San Sabastian
Nicolas Roche on the final climb of the Jaizkibel in the Clasica San Sabastian

Although my Saxo-Tinkoff team got onto the final podium of the Tour de France in Paris last Sunday, as winners of the team classification, one of the things we all missed afterwards was the usual lap of honour around the Champs Elysees

Classica San Sebastian Diary

Saturday, July 27: Clasica San Sebastian – 234km

The lap of honour is a great way to end the Tour. Cruising down the fully closed Champs Ely.sees with your team-mates, you can stop to have chat with some of the fans at the side of the road, and posing for the official team photo at the Arc de Triomphe is a great way to be able to say 'we did it, we finished the Tour'.

As the race organisers had decided to finish the stage at night time, though, it was past midnight before we arrived at the team's post-Tour gathering in a nightclub called the 'VIP Room'. For me, it was more bed time than starting a party time.

I was expecting a bit of dinner but we only had some finger food and a glass of wine as we waited for the corporate guests to arrive.

Team leader Alberto Contador and team boss Bjarne Riis said a few words and while the party went on, most of us left and went to bed.

Wrecked after three weeks of racing, I didn't touch my bike until Tuesday when I did two and a half hours. But as I was racing in the one-day San Sebastian Classic today, I knew I had to keep spinning the legs, so I did three and a half hours on Wednesday and an hour and a half on Thursday before heading to Spain on Friday morning for this race.

Although we had a good team at the start, there were a lot of question marks as to how everyone was feeling just six days after the Tour. We decided to ride close to the front, stay focused, and let our legs do the talking when we got to the second time up the main climb of the day, the Jaizkibel, on the outskirts of Barcelona.

The Spanish Movistar team of Alejandro Valverde and Tour de France runner-up Nairo Quintana had said in the newspapers that they were going to ride all-in for Valverde – we knew they had a strong team here and Valverde really wanted to win his second Clasica.

True to their word, Movistar took the race in hand from the beginning. When we hit the Jaizkibel for the first time, they sent two guys up the road. I was riding beside my team-mate Roman Kreuziger and after a brief chat I jumped across to the duo with a Sky rider, but we were brought back halfway up the climb.

A group of about 15 went away next and we had Jesus Hernandez and Roman in it, but everything came back together on the descent before another eight-man group containing Sky's Richie Porte and Garmin's Andrew Talansky escaped in the valley, on the way to the second-category Alto de Arkale with about 50km to go.

Movistar attacked again and I followed them across to the front group. At the Tour, once you got into the front group it was flat out, but a lot of the guys were thinking about the three big climbs left and although we got about 40 seconds, nobody was really pushing the pace on.

When we hit the first-category Jaizkibel for the final time, however, Quintana went to the front and lit it up, dragging Valverde, Roman and three others clear.

I was in a group a couple of metres behind and when Arnold Jeannesson of FDJ attacked, myself and Rinaldo Nocentini of Ag2r followed and got across to the leaders just as Quintana's legs went.

Once the Colombian climber was dropped, everyone looked around to see who else was going to do the work so I attacked, but only got about 300m up the road before Valverde dragged the others across to me.

Roman attacked about a kilometre and a half from the summit and got 25 seconds before Valverde and Radioshack rider Tony Gallopin chased him down, with me on their wheel, but with about 25km to go and just eight of us up front, I got a dart of cramp in my leg. I was thinking, 'No, please, not now. I'm in a good group in a Classic and now I get cramp'.

As we were descending, I clipped my foot out of the pedal and stretched my leg to try and ease the pain. Luckily we had a soigneur at the roadside with 20km to go and I grabbed a bottle. Roman had two energy gels left so I gulped them down too and drank the whole bottle in about a minute.

With 21km to go, my eight-man group was joined by French time trial champion Sylvain Chavanel of Quickstep and Mikel Astarloza of Euskaltel but we still had 43 seconds on the rest.

Coming into the last climb with 15km to go, Gallopin put in a good attack and everyone looked at each other. A few metres later I chased after him with Euskaltel's Mikel Landa but we couldn't get across and he crested the climb 15 seconds clear.

At the top Roman came across to us with Valverede, while Basque rider Mikel Nieve came back onto us on the descent. I've no idea where he came from because he wasn't in any of the groups before that.

Although both the Basque Euskaltel team and my Saxo-Tinkoff team now had two riders in the five-man chase behind Gallopin, Valverde didn't sit on and rode to win the race. With 3km to go, Frenchman Gallopin was still 20 seconds clear. We knew we were racing for second place so we started attacking each other.


I put in a big effort with 2km to go on a drag but once I got caught on the descent to the seafront, I knew I had to lead out Roman for the sprint.

Although we knew Valverde was way quicker in a one-on-one sprint, we had to try and beat him. In the end, Gallopin hung on for his first Classic victory while Valverde got second ahead of Roman, and I crossed the line in fifth for my first top-five in a WorldTour one day race.

The early kilometres were terrible. I couldn't feel anything in my legs, even the bike didn't feel like it was mine as I had been riding a different bike at home for the previous days. When we hit the Jaizkibel the first time, however, I felt that I was going okay. Maybe I shouldn't have made the earlier efforts to follow the Movistar guys, but I didn't realise my legs were that good until I had wasted them.

Now I'm in a hotel in Biarritz, washing my cycling kit in the sink. I'm having dinner with Simon Gerrans, who held yellow for a few days at the Tour. He's staying in a hotel down the road and we will both ride a criterium here on Monday. I have two more crits on Tuesday and Wednesday before four days at home and a two-week training cap in the mountains ahead of the Vuelta Espana which begins on August 24.

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