Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) expressed quiet satisfaction after managing to move up to fifth overall in the Vuelta a Espana on the flat but wind-exposed terrain of stage 17. Saxo-Tinkoff blew the Vuelta peloton apart by forming a series of echelons - as they had done in the Tour de France three months ago -striking a huge blow to their rivals' ambitions of a top five finish.
Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) was pushed down to sixth place. He is now one minute and 26 seconds behind Roche instead of five seconds ahead. A seemingly inoffensive-looking flat stage proved to be hugely beneficial for the Irishman.
"It was a good stage, there took some dedication from the guys again, to go all out like that for 30 kilometres," Roche told Cyclingnews. "That wasn't an easy task, but they did an amazing job and I'm really proud and humbled by what they did."
The split was initiated by Saxo-Tinkoff, with Roche's teammate Matteo Tosatto accelerating hard and then RadioShack-Leopard coming in to help build the momentum. By the end of the stage, the three dozen riders in the front echelon had gained 91 seconds on Pozzovivo and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr), seventh overall.
"In the morning you talk about different plans and different possible scenarios and that was one of the plans, maybe if or what," Roche said. "But it's one thing to plan and another to actually do it."
"There was a couple of minutes and a little bit of confusion before we got organised behind Tosatto, who did an amazing job opening up and holding on to the lead until we got there and RadioShack took over a bit with [Fabian] Cancellara. Once the rest of us got to the front, there was no looking back and we just gave it everything."
"It's always exciting to be part of those kinds of moves. But it was the guys that gave it everything."
Every day has key points
Looking ahead, Roche says his game plan is simple: "Every day has its own important key points, some to try and take advantage of and others not to lose time. We've been going day by day, seeing what we can do, and so far it's been working."
"A couple of weeks ago, I was saying maybe I could be top five at the worse. Then I dropped down to sixth, and it wasn't looking so good after my crisis in Andorra. [on stage 14, where Roche lost time]."
"I would definitely be extremely disappointed if I went backwards now because that would not reward the work from the guys, like today or on Sunday [stage 15], when they sacrificed everything for me to be up there with the top riders [for GC.]."
"So that's how I'm going to be riding for the next three days, with that in the back of my mind, saying to myself, 'guys I'm not going to disappoint you.' And hopefully - I won't."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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