Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) was among the many walking wounded reporting for duty in Frosinone the day after the first major sifting of the general classification at the Giro d’Italia, which arrived in unexpected circumstances on a rain-soaked roundabout beneath Montecassino.
The mass crash at the foot of the final climb left Roche lying stunned on the tarmac for some time and by the time he remounted, his ambitions for the race had already been downsized. The Irishman rode to the top some 15 minutes down on the leading group, and the outright captaincy of the Tinkoff-Saxo team now falls to Rafal Majka.
"I hit the head pretty badly so I had a bit of a shock on the neck but it’s nothing major, just that and the usual skin off the ass and the knee," Roche told Cyclingnews as he pedalled to sign on in Frosinone.
"It’s unfortunate but it’s part of the game. It could have been even worse, when you look at Purito [Joaquim Rodriguez], whose Giro is over with broken bones. So now I’ll look on the bright side and I’ll try and do my work for Rafal, who was able to save the day yesterday, and I’ll try and hit a few breakaways if possible."
Majka also hit the ground in the incident, but recovered sufficiently to finish in the first chasing group and he now lies in 4th place overall, 1:25 off the maglia rosa and 1:04 behind Cadel Evans (BMC), the main beneficiary of Thursday’s chaotic finale.
"The team did a brilliant job to get Jay McCarthy’s bike to Rafal pretty quickly and he was off. It took me that bit longer to actually get up and at that stage, new bike, old bike, it didn’t make much of a difference, I was just KO," Roche explained.
After spending much of the Giro’s opening week scrupulously saving seconds and nudging his way up the general classification, Roche slid to 80th overall and 18:55 off the overall lead in one fell swoop at Montecassino. In theory, that should give the Irishman the opportunity to go on the offensive as the race progresses, although working in the service of Majka, who finished 6th overall last year, will be the priority.
"The plan now is to do my work for Rafal – he’s going to have a great chance for a top five and hopefully for a podium. I think he’s in top shape," Roche said. "Beyond that, I’ll try to be smart and find the right breakaways."
In the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s crash-strewn finale, there was debate over whether the BMC forcing that carried Evans clear was within the ill-defined limits of peloton etiquette, while Gazzetta dello Sport speculated that the widespread use of aerodynamic wheels had contributed to the crash.
For his part, Roche felt that placing a single climb at the end of a long, flat stage was a recipe for disaster, with so many fresh pairs of legs jostling for positions on the fast – and ultimately rain-slicked – run-in to the bottom of the ascent.
"When you have a mountaintop finish like that and everyone is still pretty fresh, I think the way the stage was set up yesterday was useless. You cannot have 200 riders arriving at a corner at the bottom of a climb on WorldTour level," he said. "If they had a climb prior to that like they usually do, it would be a different story. I just didn’t see the purpose of it. I think the crash was just due to the rain rather than anything else, but was it really necessary to do 250k in the flat for a five kilometre climb? I’m not quite sure."