Nicolas Roche (Sunweb) red jersey run ended in the Vuelta a España, “killed” by an attack by world champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) on the Javalambre climb.
The Irishman, who took the lead on stage two, ended stage five 1-30 minutes behind new leader Miguel Ángel López (Astana). López went free after an initial attack by Valverde, while his fellow Spaniard Ángel Madrazo (Burgos-BH) won from an escape at the Javalambre Observatory.
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“I could see everyone was on their limits when Valverde attacked. That just killed me,” Roche said while putting a red Sunweb jersey over the leader’s jersey of the same colour.
“This kind of climb isn’t ideal for me, with the changes of pace and accelerations.”
The Javalambre climb rose 11.1 kilometres with grades of 16 per cent at times. Roche’s team led the race both for him and for their designated leader Wilco Kelderman, who eventually lost 1-45 to López on the stage.
“It was a great experience to be in red. Last time [in 2013], I had it I only held it for one day,” continued Roche.
“The team did a great job to support me and we worked well together on this stage. I’m in good condition and I rode a good climb today.
“I knew it would be difficult to defend the jersey today, and when the attacks came, I decided to go at my own pace and limit the losses.”
Now Roche sits fifth overall at 57 seconds behind López, while Kelderman is at 10th at 1-50. Roche, now 35, has previously finished fifth overall in the 2013 Vuelta a España.
“I am feeling good. Maybe I can keep riding at this pace, I can think about finishing in the top 10,” Roche explained.
“The problem with that is if you’re close on GC no one will let you get into a breakaway. We’ll see how these next mountain stages go.”
Valverde’s attack saw Roche fade and also shook many others with only López able to ride free. Behind, even Valverde’s team-mate and team leader Nairo Quintana lost footing.
“I jumped several times and then I started riding to minimise losses with Superman,” Valverde said. “At the beginning of the attacks, I thought Nairo was coming back, then I learned otherwise, but I’d already let up. Nairo is still there. Today it was a climb that suited him, but not every day the legs respond the same.”