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Roche remains in red after stressful Vuelta a Espana stage

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Nicolas Roche (Sunweb) leading the Vuelta a Espana

Nicolas Roche (Sunweb) leading the Vuelta a Espana (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Nicolas Roche (Sunweb) in the Vuelta lead for the second day

Nicolas Roche (Sunweb) in the Vuelta lead for the second day (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Nicolas Roche (Sunweb)

Nicolas Roche (Sunweb) (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Race leader Nicolas Roche and points leader Nairo Quintana

Race leader Nicolas Roche and points leader Nairo Quintana (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Nicolas Roche (Team Sunweb) came through an unexpectedly fraught first stage as the Vuelta a España leader with his initial objective more than intact - keeping the red jersey for at least one day longer than in 2013.

Six years ago, Roche could only hold onto the Vuelta lead he took at the Peñas Blancas summit finish for 24 hours before losing it on the steep ascent to Valdepeñas de Jaén to Spanish climber Dani Moreno.

This time around it was a different story and Roche said he was delighted to have come through his first day unscathed - particularly as there was a lot more tension than he expected on a stage which seemed all but certain to end in a bunch sprint.

"Today was a lot more stressful than we initially thought," Roche, 74th on the stage won by compatriot Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) told reporters afterwards. "It was very important to be on your toes, the stage looked a lot easier on paper than it actually was.

"The team did a really good job, we spent a lot of time up front and maybe spent quite a lot of energy but it was worth the risk.

"We saw there was a little bit of tension, the rivals were testing things a little bit on the climbs with 50 kilometres to go which was quite unexpected. Then," - with tailwinds speeding the bunch along at an average of over 65kmh in the last 10 kilometres "it was a very fast finish, too."

Roche came through the stage unscathed and one of the bonuses of his success was that just moments before he climbed onto the winner's podium to receive the applause and another red jersey of race leader, compatriot Bennett had celebrated his stage victory in the same spot.

"It's quite special. Last night we were talking about it, and I sent Sam a text saying 'man you've got to win tomorrow,'" Roche reflected. "We were talking about it on the bike this morning, too, a lot of social media accounts were saying that 'it'd be great to have Sam win whilst you're in red.'"

"I replied by saying, 'yes it'd be the opportunity of a lifetime'. So at least we got that done today, I'm very happy for Sam, and it's a big thumbs up for Irish cycling too."

Roche says he is expecting a similar scenario tomorrow, with a bunch sprint likely to decide the flat run to El Puig north of Valencia. However, along with Bennett, Roche tipped his teammate Max Walscheid as another potential winner. Meanwhile Roche's target, he said, was "trying to keep the red jersey for one more day."

"I will really take it day by day because I came here to help Wilco [Kelderman, teammate] and I think he's in really good shape," Roche reasoned.

"I think by helping Wilco and doing a good job I can still be up there anyway. I'm just focused on doing my job and hoping the results come through, too."