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Roche handles pressure to reclaim 5th spot

Posted 13 September 2010


Nicolas Roche came under intense pressure to defend his GC position during stage 16 of the Vuelta á Espana only to reply with a gutsy performance which reclaimed fifth place overall while changing the race leadership.

Roche’s growing stature within the race is reflected in the fact that he is now very much on course for finishing in the top five overall when the race concludes in Madrid on Sunday.

His overall performance on the 181 kilometre stage from Gijon to Cotobello underlined his growing confidence as a team leader and ever improving ability to calculate his efforts and eliminate his rivals.

The AG2R La Mondiale rider faced a difficult decision heading into the final 20 kilometres of the stage as a five man breakaway containing Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne) started to strech its lead to 2’53”.

The Spaniard started the stage just 4’18” behind Roche leaving him with no option but to draw on the support of his remaining teammates ahead of the finish on the 10.1 kilometre first category climb of the Cotobello to protect his 6th place overall.

The decision to expend his support for the final climb paid dividends as the breakaway riders started to attack each other on the foothills of the climb in the knowledge that the chase group of just twenty riders were closing to within two minutes.

The challenge facing the Irishman was far from neutralised when Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) rode clear from the break leaving companions Sanchez,  Thomas Peterson (Garmin-Transitions), Kevin de Weert (Quick Step) and teammate Amets Txurruka behind.

Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank), who started the day just 5 seconds and one place further back than Roche, launched an attack with over 8.9 kilometres to the summit having failed to succeed with a similar attack close to the summit of the preceding Puerto de la Cobertoria.

Roche’s deicision to hold his nerve and to resist the temptation to join Tom Danielson (Garmin Transitions) in pursuit was the sensible option and his confidence was quickly buoyed as fifth placed rider Xavier Tondo (Cervelo Test Team) cracked within 500 metres.

Race leader Vincenzo Nibali continued to rely heavily upon Liquigas-Doimo teammate Roman Kreuziger for support in setting a pace which was rapid enough to keep Schleck within 16 seconds while reducing the chase group to just ten riders.

Roche was holding his own among ther favourites as the race neared 7 kilometres to the finish and took the decision to stay where he was when Carlos Sastre (Cervelo Test Team) shot clear from the group after another two kilometres on the 8% average gradient.

Danielson’s success in bridging to Schleck and in sweeping through the break was quickly undone when Sastre caught and passed the duo after less than 600 metres.

Schleck fought to catch the Spaniard’s wheel and it took two attacks over the next kilometre before the Luxembourger could shake him lose as he held onto a 19” second lead over the Roche group while closing to within 1’46” of Nieve with just over 3 kilometres to go.

Kreuziger’s work for Nibali continued to have a devastating impact on the top placed GC riders when Peter Velits blew, which was another boon to Roche who had started the stage just 14 seconds behind the HTC Columbia rider who was placed fourth overall.

Although he was assured of regaining his fifth place overall Roche was not content to concede time to Schleck who was steadily increasing his lead to 34 seconds as he neared the final kilometre.

The Irishman took charge of the chase as the climb reached the closing kilometre with an attack which split the group which had been reduced to Nibali, Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) and Xacobeo Galicia riders Ezeueiel Mosquera and David Garcia.

He limited his losses to 38 seconds over the 800 metres pitch to the line as Schleck was motivated by realising the opportunity to catch De Weert to finish second behind Nieve who had a winning margin of 1’06”.

Roche’s attack left Nibali fighing to defend the race lead and the Italian was cooked as Rodriguez seized his opportunity to regain the race lead by 33 seconds.

Roche placed eighth moving back to 5th overall with a deficit of 3’01” to Rodriguez. He lies just 44 seconds behind Schleck and is within 2’08” of  a place in the top three heading into the Penafiel individual time trial.

His return to fifth place overall with a gap of 1’26” to his next nearest rival Velits and is well capable of defending or improving upon that position if his form remains unaffected by tommorow’s final rest day.

Results:

2010 Vuelta á Espana

Stage16: Gijon – Cotobello, 181 kilometres

1. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 4 hours, 51 minutes, 59 seconds
2. Frank Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:01:06
3. Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quick Step 0:01:08
4. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha 0:01:22
5. Luis-Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0:01:32
6. Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 0:01:40
7. David Garcia Dapena (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 0:01:42
8. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2R-La Mondiale 0:01:44
9. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervélo Test Team 0:01:50
10. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 0:01:59

8. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale at 1 minutes, 44 seconds

General classification after stage 16:

1. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha 70:24:39
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 0:00:33
3. Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 0:00:53
4. Frank Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:02:16
5. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2R-La Mondiale 0:03:01
6. Peter Velits (Svk) Team HTC-Columbia 0:04:27
7. Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Transitions 0:04:29
8. Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo Test Team 0:04:43
9.Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervélo Test Team 0:04:53
10. David Garcia Dapena (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 0:06:23

5. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale at 3 minutes, 01 seconds

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