Saturday 20 January 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'Shoulders, elbows and even the odd headbutt'

Tour of Catalonia Stage 5, Friday, March 25: El Vendrell to Tarragonia 206km

Nicolas Roche

On paper, today's stage was 206km. In reality, the longest stage on the Tour ended up being 10km longer, but we still finished it way ahead of the fastest predicted schedule.

Some days you make one move and you get in the break, this week I seem to have made 100 moves and I'm not getting into the break. There's no logic to it. I tried a few times to get up the road at the start, but it was super quick and nobody got away until the first climb, after 85km.

I wanted to go with seven or eight guys, but knew that they had very little chance of staying away on such a long stage, especially as Francesco Masciarelli had started the day just under two minutes down on race leader Alberto Contador.

I found myself alongside my cousin Dan Martin and his Garmin Cervelo team-mate Christian Vande Velde.

Although Dan is a super-skinny climber not normally accustomed to bunch sprints, in trying to hold onto his fourth place overall by staying clear of trouble and as near to the front of the peloton as possible, he had finished one place ahead of me in 10th on the previous day's stage. Naturally, Vande Velde felt obliged to give me some stick.

"Hey Nico, your cousin beat you in a sprint yesterday haw?"

"Yeah, sure even (Alessandro) Petacchi abandoned when he heard Dan was going to have a go in the gallop," I replied. We had a quick laugh, but there was a slight crosswind for most of the stage and everybody was in one long line, so there wasn't much time for chat.

My whole Ag2r La Mondiale team rode close together all day, protecting Blel Kadri, who is 12th overall. We went over the two second-category climbs pretty steadily. The break got a maximum lead of about five minutes before Contador's men assembled at the front and began to tighten the leash on Masciarelli. The leaders fought on however, and the quartet were only caught with 5km to go.

The guys did a great job for me again in the finale. When Petacchi is around, sprints are fast and clean. Since he abandoned yesterday, it's been a bit messy. Today's sprint was a bit chaotic and some of the GC riders were caught up in it again as they tried to stay near the front and out of trouble.

There is no one strong team to keep the bunch lined out and there are constant waves of teams bringing their sprinters to the front on both sides of the road, so you have to keep alert and constantly chop and change wheels in an effort to get the best one when the gallop does start.

I was on the wheel of one of the Caja Rural riders in the last 500m. My plan was to go early so with about 400m to go; I jumped out of the line and began my sprint on the right-hand side of the road.

Unfortunately, this coincided with the exact moment that Movistar lead-out man Imanol Ervitti finished his effort and swung off the front of the bunch. Ervitti swung across in front of me and I hit his back derailleur. I had to brake and then come around him again, which lost me a lot of momentum. It was pretty close and I was disappointed to be seventh.

I suppose that just about sums up my luck recently. If I hadn't hit Ervitti's wheel I would have definitely placed higher, but if I start to think about stuff like that then I would have, could have, should have won maybe 50 races at this stage. It's part and parcel of sprinting and comes with the same 60kph territory as elbows, shoulders, pushes and even the odd headbutt.

At least I broke into the top 10 today. I'm happy enough. I can feel this week that I'm getting a bit stronger, even if I did lack a bit of power on the climb to Andorra on Wednesday.

The plan for Saturday is more or less the same. While Dan lies just 35 seconds off Contador in fourth and Philip Deignan (65th) will be looking after his Radioshack leader Levi Leipheimer, who is second overall, I'm three and a half minutes down in 40th, so my focus is now on trying to get up the road to have a chance of a stage win.

Irish Independent

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