Nicolas Roche: 'They tore down the climb, splitting the peloton to shreds'
At the team briefing this morning, we knew today's stage would be dominated by the only climb on the course, the second category Alto de Catorce, which came after 170km.
While the king of the mountains sprint line came just 20km from the finish in Cordoba, we knew there was a false flat for a few kilometres afterwards before a 13km drop into the finish.
The plan for the team was to make the racing hard on the climb and try to get rid of as many sprinters as possible on the way up to increase myself and my team-mate Lloyd Mondory's chances of a good result at the finish.
As we rolled along in the seven-kilometre neutralised section before the stage, I noticed Danish sprinter Matti Breschel lying on the ground having crashed. I later learned that Breschel, a former fashion model, was forced to abandon with two broken fingers.
A few kilometres later, my team-mate Matteo Montaguti rode alongside. "Hey Nico, do I have my race numbers on?"
I took a quick look and told him he didn't. "Somebody told me over the radio, but I thought they were taking the p**s," said the Italian. I just laughed.
The first 50km were pretty fast until a four-man break established itself and built up a lead of eight minutes before the Garmin Cervelo team and the Leopard Trek squad began to chase.
With 45km to go, and the gap down to four minutes, world time-trial champion Fabian Cancellara went to the front of the peloton and did a huge turn. Riding at a steady 55kmph, with three team-mates behind him ready to take over, the Swiss machine had cut the gap in half 10km later.
We had Steve Houanard in the front line, giving Leopard Trek a hand, and as we started the climb the leaders were finally reeled in. Stuart O'Grady took over on the mountain, with Leopard Trek team-mates Oliver Zaugg, Maxime Monfort and Jakob Fuglsang in a row behind him.
I sat in fifth place in the line, in between Fuglsang and race leader Sylvain Chavanel of Quick Step, as we began to climb. The pace was pretty fast but as we got nearer the top, I looked around to see maybe 40 guys still in the peloton, which meant we weren't going hard enough.
The fact that three-time Vuelta king of the mountains David Moncoutie was able to attack us near the top, to earn some more points towards what would be a record fourth win in that competition, confirmed my suspicions that we weren't going fast enough on the way up.
Three others -- German Tony Martin, Spain's David de la Fuente and Belgian Kevin Seeldrayers -- joined Moncoutie in the front group and had 15 seconds going down the descent.
There was a lull in the peloton and I got swamped a bit before the Liquigas team of last year's winner Vincenzo Nibali took over the chase.
Nibali is known as one of the best descenders in the pro peloton and, judging by today, he has been giving his team-mates a few lessons.
Four of them hit the front on the descent and absolutely tore down the climb, splitting the peloton to shreds. I knew it was going to happen and took a few risks on the first few corners to try and stay with them.
As the four Liquigas riders threw themselves into the corners, another small group formed behind them.
There were only 10 riders in the second group and I would have been happy enough to stay with them, but 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre took a corner really wide and lost the wheel in front of him. As I rode around him, Michele Scarponi, who was the last man in that group, pulled a few metres clear and I was caught in no man's land, in between groups, with Rabobank's Luis Leon Sanchez.
With only around 10km left, I rode hard with Sanchez and so was pretty p***ed off when a 15-man group caught us with three kilometres to go and even more peeved when I looked back near the finish and saw the group had swelled to around 40 riders.
In the end, I finished in the third group on the road. I lost 23 seconds to Nibali's front group and only six seconds to the group ahead, where I should have been. There's no point in whinging over six seconds, but I can't help feeling irate because I knew it was going to happen but couldn't do anything about it.
I'm not a fan of attacking on descents as I think it forces people to take risks and can be dangerous, especially in the wet. But fair play to the Liquigas guys, they did a great job today.
It's hard to explain why some guys can descend quicker than others. It's a bit like comparing your driving with your granny's driving. She might tip the brakes a bit earlier going into a corner or take the bend a bit wider. It's a combination of minute details that makes the difference.
My cousin Dan finished in the same group as me today and is now just one place and three seconds ahead of me in 24th position overall. Hopefully we can both move up a bit in the days ahead.
Vuelta a Espana,
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