Nicolas Roche, often mentioned as the son of Stephen Roche though with comparisons rarely drawn anymore, done something his father never did yesterday…win a stage of the Vuelta, for the second time. Stephen only rode the Vuelta once in 1992 and never won a stage whereas Nicolas is taking part for the sixth time and yesterday escaped from the large break with Haimar Zubeldia and then out sprinted the veteran Trek Factory rider to win Sky’s first stage of this years race.
Roche has carved out a fine career of his own after those early days when comparisons would be drawn with his dad and expectations to repeat his fathers achievements were rife. While Nicolas is never likely to win Grand Tours like his dad, he has become a very good team player and the road captain for Team Sky. And it’s easy to forget he’s now a 31 year old veteran himself — four years older now than his dad was when he completed that Giro, Tour, Worlds triple crown — and riding better than ever. Indeed he has now started the same number of Grand Tours as his dad ever did and, assuming he makes Madrid this Sunday, will have completed all 15 of them to Stephens 12.
There was no change in the GC battle as the final climb came too far out from the finish to make a massive impact. That didn’t stop Aru trying however as he launched a number of searing attacks but found Tom Dumoulin in the red jersey stuck to his rear wheel.
Whether these attacks were meant to test the legs of Dumoulin in the hops of cracking him or just to soften him up for the days ahead, I’m not sure, but even had Aru opened a gap it’s unlikely he would have sustained it to the line given 12km remained when the crossed the summit. Tomorrow’s 2nd cat. climb tops out even further from the finish so dropping Dumoulin there would only see the Dutchman time-trial back onto Aru assuming he retained his composure upon being dropped as he has each time the little climbers have attacked thus far at this Vuelta.
There is however a punchy little cobbled climb up into the walled city of Ávila at the finish and that could allow for a handful of seconds to be gained. Dumoulin will have to be at his absolute strongest and keep his wits about him also not to allow any gaps to appear. In an ideal world for him he’ll remain glued to the rear of Aru and a large break of riders up the road will contest the stage and the time bonuses.
That said, I still expect Aru to try something on the Alto de la Paramera given the desperation we seen creep in yesterday, and why not? He’s got nothing to lose now. It’s it funny though that it has taken this desperation for Aru to gain three seconds or others to gain time for a podium placing to finally see them launch early and daring attacks. In the stages before the time-trial the majority of summit finishes were being fought out in the final couple of kilometres as each man tried to gain seconds without taking the risk of collapse by going for it too far out. They were aware they had to take time on Dumoulin, but they were too worried about being counter attacked by other climbers and the result only favoured Dumoulin and has left the rest now desperate to attack.
It’s made this Vuelta a fascinating tactical battle and one in which Dumoulin has played perfectly. Can his legs continue to allow him to do so? We’ll have to see today and tomorrow but he can no longer afford to limit his loses, he must react to every move Aru makes and keep it tight.