Nicolas Roche claims ‘La Vuelta’ leader’s red jersey
‘I like this very much, it’s a dream. Every year I go to the Vuelta thinking of taking the red jersey one day, and today is incredible’
Nicolas Roche in the overall leader’s red jersey after his third-place finish on stage eight of ’La Vuelta’. Photograph: Graham Watson/Unipublic
After sacrificing his own chances in the Tour de France for team leader Alberto Contador, Ireland’s Nicolas Roche is making the most of his opportunities in the Vuelta a España and has clocked up the best results of his career to date.
Last Sunday he took his first Grand Tour stage victory, winning stage two of the Vuelta. That moved him to second overall behind the 2010 race winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and while Roche was bumped down a place by the following day’s winner Chris Horner (RadioShack Leopard), he vaulted above both today and into the red race leader’s jersey.
His seizing of the lead makes him just the third Irishman to do so. Shay Elliott topped the classification for nine days en route to third overall in the 1962 edition. Seán Kelly led in both 1987 and 1988, being forced to quit the race the first of those years due to a saddle sore, but winning twelve months later.
I can not imagine in any way a happier day... Thanks for the support !— Nicholas Roche (@nicholasroche) August 31, 2013
Roche’s success came when he finished third on today’s eighth stage, a 166.6 kilometre race to the summit finish of the Alto Peñas Blancas (Estepona) climb. He was part of a small group which pushed ahead inside the final two kilometres, and from which the Czech rider Leopold Konig (NetApp Endura) pushed clear and overhauled lone leader Igor Anton (Euskaltel Euskadi).
Konig hit the line one second ahead of Dani Moreno (Katusha), while Roche finished a further four seconds back in third.
The previous race leader Vinceno Nibali (Astana) wasn’t as strong as expected on the climb and finished in 16th place, 27 seconds back. Chris Horner had been second overall starting the stage and instructed his RadioShack Leopard to ride flat out in the early slopes, but he too wasn’t as prominent as anticipated.
He finished 11th, 23 seconds behind Konig.
When the time bonus for third was also factored into the overall standings, Roche ended the day in red, 17 seconds ahead of Horner and Moreno, and a further one second clear of Nibali.
He described it as the best day of his career afterwards. “I am not used to this,” he said. “I like this very much, it’s a dream. Every year I go to the Vuelta thinking of taking the red jersey one day, and today is incredible.”
He said that pushing for the lead was on his mind ever since he won his stage and moved to second overall behind Nibali. While he slipped a further place back, he kept that ambition in focus. “The other day when I attacked for the victory, I thought of the red jersey,” he said. “I was left eight seconds short. I thought it is very little, (and that) maybe another day if I get a bonus or, like today, if I gain time, I could take it.”
Roche isn’t sure how long he can retain it for. “One, two…every day I keep the jersey is good,” he said, adding that he just wanted to savour the moment and then see what happens.
The Vuelta a España continues tomorrow with a 163.7 kilometre race from Antequera to Valdepeñas de Jaén. It finishes with a short, very steep ramp up to the line and riders such as Moreno and his Katusha team-mate Joaquim Rodriguez are regarded as favourites.
The nature of the finish means that Roche may lose some time to the duo, who are smaller, lighter and more explosive on such climbs, but he has a good buffer. He will hope to ride well tomorrow and also on the following day’s tough summit finish to the Alto de Haza Llana.
Before the race he said his overall target was a top five finish, which would be his best Grand Tour result. Now, with increased confidence, he may well aim higher.
His father Stephen Roche won both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, but never led the Vuelta. He rode it once, in 1992, and finished 14th overall.