Saturday 16 December 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'The only good thing about these motels is the buffet'

Wednesday, September 1, Stage 5: Guadix to Lorca 198km


Last night my Ag2r La Mondiale team went from a five-star hotel in Malaga with a casino, bars and two restaurants to a truck stop at the side of a motorway near Guadix.

Although most of the guys on the team are winding down their season with this Vuelta, I'm aiming at a good overall position at the end of the three weeks, so I have to be serious about my job. When we finish dinner at around 10.30, I can't join them for a coffee and a chat afterwards because I have to go to bed to try and be in the best possible shape for the next stage, so last night I bought a good bottle of wine for the dinner table as a small way of saying thanks to the guys for their hard work on the early stages so far.

I'm rooming on my own at the Vuelta for the early stages and my room last night wasn't too bad. But for the first 10 minutes or so I thought I was in the opening scenes of 'Once Upon A Time In The West'. If you haven't seen it, look it up on YouTube. My room must have been over the air-conditioning system for the whole motel because all I could hear was a creak that reminded me of Sergio Leone's three cowboys waiting on a train, as a windmill or something squeaks in the background. Last night I was that cowboy ... until I put my earplugs in and fell asleep.

Today was a long and boring day on the Vuelta. For most of the 198km there were four guys up the road that were always going to be caught and we knew it would end in a bunch sprint.

I spent most of the stage sitting in the peloton chatting with Philip Deignan from Letterkenny. Although we've never ridden on the same professional team, Philip was with Ag2r for four years and left just before I joined.


I've known Philip since we were 13 or 14 and racing against each other as underage riders in Ireland. As we progressed through the ranks, we were on the same Irish teams together and are always room-mates if we go away on the national squad. He was my room-mate in Beijing for the Olympics and we trained together for a couple of weeks beforehand. Philip is a class act when he's on form and won a stage and finished ninth overall in last year's Vuelta. We get on really well and are always slagging each other about something.

Just before the Vuelta, Philip and his team-mates on the Cervelo Test Team, were told that the squad would no longer exist next year and he would be out of a job. Even though he has one year left with Cervelo, Philip's contract is not looking like it will be honoured and he has to go looking for a new team for 2011. To make it even harder for him, he was laid low with a virus for most of this season and hasn't had many results.

That's all the ammunition I needed for today. Most of the stage was spent sadistically asking him if he was looking for a team next year and if he had tried contacting Ag2r. I told him I knew the Ag2r team leader and that he was sound. Philip said he heard he was a bit of a b****cks from Dundrum. I said I could put a word in for him for next year if he liked, but that I didn't know if Philip was any good. I asked him if he had any results lately. He laughed and replied that he had exactly the same amount of victories as me this year -- none.

Philip then jokingly said he had applied for university and would be leaving for Trinity College on the first rest day of the Vuelta. I told him it was a pity he wasn't a good cyclist or he could have applied for a sports scholarship.

The slagging went back and forth like this for the day and we had a good laugh. It was either that or spend the day gawping at the barren desert-like scenery as we rolled along waiting for the sprint. Philip deserves a place on any ProTour team and personally, I'd love to have Philip as a team-mate next season but I think he is in the process of sorting a team out himself for 2011.

The last 50km flew by as the sprinters' teams went to the front to reel in the breakaways and set up the finish for their fast men. There was just enough wind to keep you on your toes but not enough wind to make it dangerous.

We were expecting more of a crosswind today but it wasn't strong enough for teams to go to the front and try and split the peloton, but I had to be wary, just in case. I had Jose Luis Arrieta beside me to keep me sheltered.

I had planned to give Seb Hinault a hand with his sprint but after a few attempts at getting up the outside of the bunch, I didn't even try to move up any more because the speed was so fast and the headwind so strong that I would have used up energy just getting near the front. I crossed the line in 26th place.

When I crossed the line there was an anti-doping chaperone waiting for me as I had been selected for a dope test. There was no cold shower for me after the stage as the chaperone followed me onto the team bus and sat beside me as I changed my jersey, grabbed a bottle of water and some fruit cake.

We then walked down to the anti-doping area and joined the queue. There were eight guys waiting for dope tests, but it was pretty well organised and I was finished in about half an hour.

Because it had been a pretty hot day again, I had drunk loads of water, but because it had been pretty uneventful early on, I also had stopped three times during the stage for a wee. I drank two or three bottles of water while I waited but as there are stringent regulations on the amount and type of samples you can give, you have to be careful not to dilute your urine too much or the test won't count. The worst thing that can happen is that you go once but the sample isn't good enough and then have to sit there until you are able to go again.

When I was finished, the team bus had gone and I had to travel in the car with my manager Julien Jordie and one of the mechanics for the 45km to tonight's hotel, another motorway stop. The only good thing about motels like this is the buffet. You don't have to wait to get dinner. The food may not be great but a bowl of pasta is a bowl of pasta.

Vuelta a Espana,

Live, Eurosport, 3.0

Irish Independent

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