Nicolas Roche: 'When the group accelerated at the end, my legs were screaming stop'
I'd hoped to get away in a breakaway group this morning but reckoned that Team Sky would try to keep the race together until the first intermediate sprint after 20km, to see if Chris Froome could pull back a few more seconds on race leader Juan Jose Cobo.
Just after Joaquin Rodriguez added more points to his green jersey tally by winning the bonus sprint there was a little 2km climb, so I attacked and got clear in a small group.
We got caught pretty soon after but as there were lots of groups going clear on the undulating roads for the next few kilometres, I tagged along with any of the bigger groups and tried to open a gap.
After a few futile attempts at going clear, David de la Fuente of the Geox team rode up to me and spoke to me in Italian. "Troppo vicini alla classificazione," he said, shaking his head to let me know that his team leader and race leader Cobo reckoned I was "too close on the classification" and he wasn't going to let me go anywhere in case I got a big lead and they couldn't bring me back.
I'd started the day nine minutes down on Cobo and didn't think I was any real threat but knew that was the end of that. On the next climb though, Marzio Bruseghin of Movistar, who began the day one place ahead of me in 17th on GC, went clear with three others and they let them get six and a half minutes.
Maybe they thought they could reel in four guys, rather than a big group, but they were wrong. The four leaders had almost five minutes as we entered the finishing circuit for the first time with about 60km to go. I was expecting the finishing circuit to be hard because my cousin Dan Martin had warned me about it.
The second-category climb of the Alto El Vivero consisted of really steep bits interspersed with flatter sections and was thronged with orange-clad Basque fans, who were obviously over the moon that Igor Anton, a Basque rider who rides for the Basque-backed Euskaltel team, was up the road with his team-mate Gorka Verdugo, Bruseghin and Alexsandr Dyanchenko of Astana.
As we hit the climb, Sky's Thomas Lovkvist blasted up it at a really high speed and whittled our group down dramatically. I didn't dare look back until we got down onto the flat again.
Here I drifted down the group, hoping the team car was behind us because I badly needed an energy gel and a bottle. There were only about 30 of us left.
My team-mate Mathieu Perget had made it into the group and he gave me a gel and waited at the back of the group for the team car to arrive, which took about 10 minutes as they had to weave their way through all the dropped riders. Going through the finish line the first time around, I grabbed a bottle off one of the soigneurs and shortly after, Mathieu arrived up to me with another gel about 3km before the second ascent of the Vivero, which saved me from the dreaded hunger knock.
Mathieu told me he didn't trust himself to stay with the group on the climb the second time up and said he was going to attack and try to get a head start on the hill so that he would be there for me if I needed him on the descent. With Anton and Bruseghin still a minute and a half clear, Mathieu went off in a little group with Chris Anker Sorensen and Rodriguez at the bottom but had been caught before the top by second-placed Froome and race leader Cobo.
I was one of the last men to hang onto the group over the top second time around and, after the rest of us caught Mathieu at the summit, I told him to get to the front.
He tried to ride full gas but there was a strong headwind. At least he gave it a go. Coming into the finish, I told him I wanted to attack on one of the little drags towards the end and if it didn't work that he should counter-attack and try to get a top-five and a few UCI points for the team.
I attacked with 4km to go but got caught. Mathieu attacked and he got caught and that was it, game over. I positioned myself for the sprint with a kilometre to go but when the group accelerated out of the last corner with 600m left, my legs were screaming at me to ease up.
I finished one place behind Dan for 14th on the stage, absolutely wrecked.
After the line, I handed my bike to the soigneur, grabbed a drink and sat down on the road. It took me a good 10 minutes to feel right again. I moved up two places to 16th overall today and am happy with that.
Saturday is going to be another hard day. I'll try to get up the road if I'm not marked out of it by Geox again. It's the last day for anybody to get Cobo out of the red jersey of race leader so it could go mental on the early climbs.
Froome gave it a good shot on the climb today. We'll soon find out if it was his last shot.
Vuelta a Espana,
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