Belfast Telegraph

Nicolas Roche's Giro d'Italia diary: The final climb should have suited me well

By Nicolas Roche

Yesterday's stage saw the first uphill finish of this Giro awaiting us in Viggiano after 203km. With the final 8km-long third-category ascent also due to be tackled with 13km to go, everyone expected a bit of a shake-up in the overall standings after the stage.

An 11-man breakaway group went clear after 20km yesterday morning but the Orica GreenEDGE team of Aussie race leader Michael Matthews did well to keep them on a relatively short leash for most of the stage, even though they didn't get much help from anybody until we reached the last 20km or so.

For my Tinkoff-Saxo team, the plan was simply to try and get myself and co-leader Rafal Majka to the final climb in the best position possible and hope we would be able to do something at the finish.

We had a strong wind facing us for the whole stage and every time we changed direction you could sense the tension growing in the peloton with the fear that some team might use the crosswind to try to split the bunch.

We also had a third-category climb midway through yesterday's stage and as it started raining on the way up, my team-mates and I moved up to the back wheels of the Orica GreenEDGE squad at the front to get in position for the descent.

In the race manual though, the downhill section looked a lot worse than it actually was. There were a good few corners on it, but it was a pretty rolling descent and some of those corners actually went back uphill so it was pretty safe.

With half of the breakaway group now caught, the rain lashed down as the BMC team of Cadel Evans began to hit the throttle at the front of the peloton as we hit the finishing hill for the first time.

I was a little bit further back than I would have liked, a Colombian guy got out of the saddle in front of me and went to stamp on the pedals. With the greasy road surface, his back wheel spun around and he did a cycling version of a jack-knife, landing on the road in front of me.

He almost took me down and I was forced to make a quick detour onto the grass verge.

The descent back around to the bottom was wet and really technical and although there were a few more crashes, I was lucky enough not to be involved in any of them.

As we approached the red kite indicating the final kilometre, I could hear my directeur sportif saying into my earpiece, "Come on guys, we're coming into a tailwind section, have a go." At that moment, I was moving up the left-hand side of the group and as there was a very slight stall at the front, I thought, 'Why not give it a go?'

I had to grit my teeth to hold on to the top, eventually taking 15th place on the stage, with Rafal getting fifth.

I was a bit surprised to see race leader Matthews take sixth on the stage and hold on to the pink jersey. Matthews is better known for his sprinting ability than his climbing, so fair play to him and his team.

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