Monday 18 December 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'The whole day annoyed me. I had a go at everybody for no real reason'

Even if you have good legs, it's a bit of a lottery every day to get in the break and even then you're not guaranteed it will stay clear to the finish. Today, with five mountains to climb, I was hoping the move of the day would go later on, on one of these climbs. I was hanging around the top 30 but not following any attacks when, after 10km, a large group, including my team-mate Matteo Montaguti, went clear.

As there was a rider from almost every team in the move, there weren't too many squads keen to chase so they quickly built up a good lead. Matteo had begun the stage in third place overall in the King of the Mountains competition, 22 points behind Cofidis rider and current leader David Moncoutie. With a maximum of 24 points on offer on the day's five mountains, Matteo knew if he could win the sprint to the top of them all, he would take over the leader's polka-dot jersey.


When they got a one-minute advantage, we were told that Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez and Robert Kiserlovski of Astana were in the move. Kiserlovski had started the day in 21st place overall, 17 minutes and 16 seconds behind leader Juan Cobo, while Rodriguez was one place behind him. Matteo won the first climb of the day after 56km but Nico Sijmens of Cofidis beat him to the top of the next three.

Although Sijmens had no interest in the mountains classification himself, he was doing his job, taking as many points from Matteo as he could so that his team leader Moncoutie would still lead the competition.

In the break, Matteo was getting dog's abuse from the other riders. As the team wanted to ensure he got the most mountains points possible, Matteo had instructions not to ride a whole lot in the move. He told me afterwards that almost everybody had a go at him, trying to get him to contribute more.

I know the feeling. The same thing happened to me in the 2009 Tour de France, when I sat on the back of the break defending the yellow jersey of my team-mate Rinaldo Nocentini. After the stage, I told Matteo not to worry about it, that it would be all blown over in the morning.

Last week when I was in the break, Moncoutie, the mountains leader, did not ride at all and neither did Daniel Moreno, so there was no reason why he should have been riding today. He is now just seven points off the mountains jersey and with a bit of luck, might just pull it off.

After about 70km, the gap to the leaders had gone up to eight minutes and as Kiserlovski had started the day six minutes and 45 seconds behind me, he was going to leapfrog me in the overall standings and I would drop to 18th overall if it stayed like that to the finish. I radioed back to the team car to ask if the team could ride at the front of the peloton and close the gap, but my directeur sportif, Julien Jourdie, said no. "Everyone's wrecked and we can't defend it," he said. "We'll wait until nearer the finish and ride for the last 20km or so if we need to."

I told him it was useless trying to close that sort of a gap with 20km to go. We might take back a few seconds but we needed to take back minutes. We had a bit of an argument about it but, being the boss, he won in the end and we didn't set off on the chase.

I could understand his point of view. Even though four of the five climbs today were only third-category and second-category, it was a real mountain stage, with 3,500m of climbing. The next three days are very important for us to try and get a stage win and if the guys rode today, then they'd be completely knackered for the rest of the race.

Still, I started getting p****d off and I wanted to give it a go myself on the first-category climb of the Puerto de Alisas with about 50km to go. I reckoned nobody would be interested if I went off in a little group and gained a minute or two, but again Julien said no.

Eventually, I just ignored him and went. I jumped clear in the final 3km of the climb and Wout Poels from Vaconsoleil came with me. As we descended with a lead of 35 seconds, I was told over the team radio that the Euskaltel team were riding on the front of the peloton because Poels was 11th overall and only needed seven seconds to overtake their team leader Mikel Nieve on the general classification. Trying to ride away from the whole Euskaltel team would have been a complete waste of energy so I told Poels the news and the two of us sat up.

The break now had almost 12 minutes' lead so the last 40km were really fast as others tried to reclaim their overall positions from Kiserlovski and Rodriguez. In the end, the breakaways still finished 7'42" ahead of us, meaning I'd lost my 17th place overall to Kiserlovski.


After the stage, I had a bit of a barny with Julien, but it was just one of those days where I needed to let off steam. Matteo had taken his first UCI point with fifth on the stage, which prompted Julien to say on the team bus, "it wasn't such a bad day."

Although I was happy for Matteo, I snapped back. "What do you mean it's not such a bad day? What sort of team tactics is that? Riding with 20km to go when they're already doing 60kph in the break?"

I wasn't even angry at losing the one place overall. My own tactic was wrong today. I'd opted not to try anything until the first climb but the break went after 10km. The whole day today just annoyed me, though, and I had a go at everybody for no real reason. When you spend three weeks living with the same guys, you can't always be happy. Although we've spent the last three weeks in Spain, it's not Club Med. We're not running around sipping cocktails!

There wasn't much talking after the stage today, but that was more to do with the fact that we've simply run out of things to talk about other than my bust-up with the boss. Looking around, I can see Julien was right, everyone is wrecked but there are only three days left and time is running out to get into the break now.

"You only lost one place, to Kiserlovski," Julien said trying to appease me. "He could blow again tomorrow. Just get in the breakaway tomorrow and it's all forgotten about."

Vuelta a Espana,

Live, Eurosport, 3.0

Irish Independent

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