The Team Sky man came into yesterday’s 11th stage of the race well-poised in fourth place, just over a minute back on race leader Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin).
However, when the Irishman became distanced from a select group of favourites in the latter half of the race his ambitions disappeared like those he was trying to cling onto the back of.
Sporting some heavy bandaging on his right elbow following crashes on successive days this week, Roche crossed the line in 52nd, being chaperoned home by two teammates.
The result saw him drop 18 places to 22nd and he’s now over 13 minutes down on new race leader Fabio Aru (Astana), who was second yesterday behind his teammate Mikel Landa.
Aru, assuming team leadership duties after fellow Italian Vincenzo Nibali was turfed out of the race last week for receiving an illegal tow, said their plan to be aggressive from the outset yesterday paid dividends.
“The team was incredible today,” he gushed afterwards.
“We agreed that Landa would go for the stage and he managed to get into the right break and went on to win what was a really difficult stage.
“I’ve got to thank the whole team who worked for me. [Alessandro] Vanotti, [Diego] Rosa, [Dario] Cataldo, [Andrey] Zeits and Luis León [Sánchez] all did some incredible work.
“It was a real demonstration of strength and I’m really happy to be in the leader’s jersey.
“There’s still 10 stages to go so we’ll take things day by day but we’ll try to defend it.”
Roche wasn’t the only Team Sky man to endure hardship yesterday as Chris Froome, aiming for a Tour/Vuelta double crashed inside the opening five kilometres, forcing him and his team into a frantic chase.
They would make contact with the peloton by the time the riders crested the second of the day’s six climbs but that effort took a considerable toll and he ran out of gas, losing over eight minutes to Landa and dropping back to 15th overall.
Their best-placed rider is Spaniard Mikel Nieve who was seventh on the day and is now 8th overall, which means both Froome and Roche could be summoned to ride in support of him.
“All I could do was ride at my own speed after the crash,” the double Tour winner said afterwards.
“I’m in quite a lot of pain at the moment.” “I’m going to get checked up by the medical staff and take it from there.
“That crash did take quite a lot out of me. From then on I just tried to hang on for dear life. I convinced myself just to get to the finish.”
The race for the red jersey changed hands for the third time with Aru assuming control, though he’s being stalked by a quartet of Spaniards.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) restricted his losses to a modest 17 seconds and trails overall by 27 seconds while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Daniel Moreno (Katusha) and the aforementioned Nieve are all within two minutes of him.
Today’s stage takes the riders on a 173 kilometre trek to Lleida and there’s only one categorised climb, which will come as welcome relief to the riders, some of whom lost over half an hour yesterday.
One rider who won’t be starting today is Tinkoff-Saxo man Sergio Paulinho after being hit by a race official on a motorbike.
The Portuguese rider required 17 stitches and a trip to hospital.
It’s the second time in recent days the team have had a rider hit by a moto and subsequently retire from the race.
Their controversial team owner Oleg Tinkov threatened to take his team off the race, tweeting “I’m considering now to take the team off the #Vuelta2015. Boycott #ASO for this. They pay us NO money for the race and even damage riders”