Ireland’s Nicolas Roche took the biggest win of his career yesterday when he won a thrilling stage two of the Vuelta A Espana from Pontevedra to Alto Do Monte Da Groba.
The SaxoBank-Tinkoff rider had two seconds to spare on Spaniard Daniel Moreno (Katusha) in second with Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) rounding out the top three.
Roche went agonisingly close to taking the race leader’s red jersey but came up short by eight seconds, but that won’t bother him a jot as he celebrates the country’s second Grand Tour stage win for 2013, after his cousin Dan Martin claimed his first Tour de France stage win last month.
Roche laid the foundations for the win when he joined a select group inside the final two kilometres of the stage,
Then, with 400 metres left to the finish line, the Irishman darted away from the rest of a four-man group that went clear before punching the air in delight.
And the day got even better for him when he took the climbers’ classification jersey.
"Entering the final kilometre, I was trying to stay calm as the group behind was chasing," explained Roche. "I opened the sprint from pretty far out and I just kept pushing to the finish line and ultimately, I took the win. I’m really happy and relieved. We were on this climb on last week’s recon so I knew the uphill finish. The whole team backed me up all the way and the win is definitely theirs as well.
"This is really liberating, I’ve only won eight races in my career but I’ve had so many second places," he added.
Asked if the Vuelta had always been a target, he continued "We set my program last November and my goal was to be a team-mate [for Alberto Contador] in the Tour."
"I had a very specific role there, whilst [Roman] Kreuziger and Michael [Rogers] were working there for Alberto high mountains, I was at the Tour for semi mountainous stages."
"But I also had the Vuelta as a clear goal, it has been my main goal of the autumn for the last five years, some years better than others, and I’ve had many a top five place on stages and even a second place. So just to be able to win is very important for me."
It was a good day too for Martin, who finished 11th on the stage and is up to 39th overall, 1:41 down.
Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) — winner of the Giro d’Italia in May, heads the overall classification by eight seconds from Roche who is two seconds in front of Radioshack trio Haimar Zubeldia, Christopher Horner and Robert Kiserlovski.
Meanwhile, fellow Irishman Philip Deignan looks set to make a move to a new team for next season with reports suggesting Team Sky could be the Donegal man’s destination.
"I’ll leave it up to the team when they want to decide to announce it," said Deignan.