Roche secures fifth place overall in Tour of Spain
Result represents best Irish finish in Grand Tour event since Seán Kelly took 1988 Vuelta
Vuelta a España overall race winner Chris Horner of United States, centre, poses with second-placed Vincenzo Nibali of Italy, left, and third-placed Spaniard Alejandro Valverde on the podium in Madrid. Photograph: Paul White/AP Photo
Nicolas Roche yesterday completed the best Irish Grand Tour result since Seán Kelly won the 1988 Vuelta a España, when he finished fifth overall in the same Spanish race.
Roche finished yesterday’s final stage in 46th place, three seconds behind stage winner Australian sprinter Michael Matthews (Orica GreenEdge).
Roche’s campaign, which began three and a half weeks ago in Vilanova de Arousa, also saw him win a stage, lead the race and also wear each of the different classification jerseys.
Roche ended the race seven minutes eleven seconds behind Chris Horner (RadioShack Leopard), who greatly surprised by winning the race at almost 42 years of age.
The American is the oldest Grand Tour winner ever, being considerably older than the previous record holder, the 1922 Tour de France winner Firmin Lambot. The latter took his title at 36 years of age.
59 seconds back
Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was second to Horner, 37 seconds behind, while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was another 59 seconds back in third.
The general classification was settled on Saturday’s stage to the top of the steep l’Angliru climb.
Horner had moved three seconds clear of Nibali on Friday’s stage and ramped that up when he dropped all of his rivals on the gruelling, mist-shrouded ascent.
He finished 26 seconds behind the solo winner Kenny Elissonde (FDJ.fr), who was part of the day’s early break.
Roche had started the day fifth overall and was conscious that the gradient of the Angliru climb could make things difficult for him.
“I’m five, six, seven kilos heavier than the other guys,” he told The Irish Times yesterday, “and such a steep climb is tough under those circumstances.”
He did come under pressure and finished three minutes 42 second back in 19th place, but rode well enough to maintain his fifth place overall.
He then ended the race in that position yesterday when he finished in Madrid in a main bunch led home by Matthews.
“I am happy. Psychologically, being top five is an important step,” he said.
“Even though it probably wouldn’t have changed anything if I was sixth [as he was in 2010], for my mind it means a lot to be in the top five.
“Trying to finish on the podium went through my mind a couple of times during the race, but looking at my opponents and the way things were in the final week, I think fifth was my place.”
Roche had been second overall going into stage 14 over a week ago, but cracked due to the extremely cold and wet conditions on the day.
He lost three and a half minutes to then-leader Nibali, but believes there’s little point in pondering what might have been.
“I will try to think for the future what I should avoid, what I did right and what I can do right again,” he said, pledging to continue to improve.
Next up is the world road race championships on September 29th , where he and Dan Martin will lead the Irish team.
“It could be a very good course for me. I’m in great form, and I want to remain focused,” he said.