Already in the top four on three of this year's stages in the Vuelta a España, Nicolas Roche finally hit the jackpot on yesterday's 18th stage when he grabbed victory in Riaza.
The Team Sky rider outsprinted Haimar Zubeldia (Trek Factory Racing) at the end of the 204km stage, repeating the victory he took two years ago in the same race.
The success came about after he and Zubeldia were part of a 25-man break that went clear early on. Roche pushed ahead on the final climb, and after he was joined by the Spaniard they joined forces over the top and down the descent to the finish, staving off the chase behind.
Roche then took the front inside the final kilometre, winding up the pace and resisting Zubeldia’s efforts to get past.
“Coming into the sprint, I wanted to lead out as Haimar is someone with a lot of experience,” he said afterwards. “I have lost a few sprints against him in the past . . . a few times in [the Clasica] San Sebastian, for example.
“I didn’t want to have a slow-start sprint, I wanted a pretty highspeed one. So I thought that I would try and manage my own pace.”
Roche said he has a large number of second and third places in races and was determined not to lose out. “Today it finally worked out.”
The 31-year-old traditionally rides well in the Vuelta, appearing to hold form each year after the Tour de France.
He won stage two in 2013 and briefly held the race leader’s jersey as a result. This time around, he was third on stage two and fourth on stage four.
He was lying fourth overall until stage 11, but tumbled down the general classification after a crash. The injuries sustained in two falls hampered him in the days since, but things turned a corner on Wednesday. Despite being stung by a wasp during the stage, everything worked out well in the end.
Behind Roche, the battle for the final race victory continued to rage.
Overall leader Tom Dumoulin came under repeated attack on the final climb from Fabio Aru (Astana), the Italian who was just three seconds behind him in the overall standings.
However, Dumoulin covered each of the surges, and while other general classification riders fired off attempts to get clear, they all reached the line together, 38 seconds behind Roche.
Elsewhere, Conor Dunne (An Post–Chain Reaction Cycles–Sean Kelly) was on the attack again at the Tour of Britain yesterday. He was out front for much of the stage, and while his group was caught before the end, he is now second overall in the sprint classification and fifth in the mountains ranking. Eddie Dunbar was best of the Irish in 24th, one minute and six seconds behind stage winner Wout Poels (Sky).
Rás na mBan
Meanwhile Danish rider
Emma Norsgaard Jorgensen
(Rytger) was best at the end of stage two of Rás na mBan in Ballyvaughan. Eve McCrystal (Garda CC) was best of the Irish in fifth.
Norsgaard Jorgensen now leads overall from the Briton Stephanie Pohl (South Netherlands team), with Irish women Lydia Boylan (Team WNT) and McCrystal fourth and fifth overall.
The international race continues today with a tough 80km stage in and around Scarriff.