ALHAMA DE MURCIA, Spain (VN) — A blur of a red jersey at the Vuelta finish line Tuesday had everyone asking: Who was that?
BMC Racing’s Nicolas Roche snuck away on the descent late in Tuesday’s stage 10 at the Vuelta a España to quietly snatch back 29 seconds and move into a dead heat for second place.
“It was a good day. It wasn’t really planned. I wasn’t planning on dropping the GC bunch!” Roche said. “I am not the worst descender in the peloton, so I thought today could be a good possibility.”
With all eyes on Chris Froome (Sky), almost no one is noticing that BMC Racing is the only team with two riders in the top-five overall.
Roche is now tied with Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) at 36 seconds back, and Tejay van Garderen is fifth, at 1:27 back.
For Roche, who typically rides in support of riders like Alberto Contador and Richie Porte, this Vuelta represents an opportunity to ride for his own results.
With the hardest climbs still looming in this Vuelta, he and his American teammate are being cautiously optimistic about the second half of the Spanish grand tour.
“Tomorrow is a big test with the high mountains, so let’s see how it goes,” Roche said. “ I’ve been riding smart. I haven’t done anything too crazy. I’ve always stayed at the back of the leader group. I didn’t want to throw away any energy. Today was the first day I gave it a proper go, and my legs were just screaming there in the final kilometer.”
The opening half of the Vuelta has gone well for BMC Racing’s two captains.
The race opened on a sour note for the U.S.-registered team. Former Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez failed an anti-doping test and was not allowed to start. BMC Racing quickly turned the page on the bad news with a smashing victory in the team time trial to open the race in Nimes, France.
Since then, van Garderen and Roche have managed to stay in the GC frame with consistent performances across a string of short, explosive finales that have punctuated the Vuelta course so far.
That changes Wednesday with the two-climb stage featuring two first-category climbs, including the Calar Alto summit high in the barren mountains of southern Spain.
“It was pretty hectic today. There were some splits, super-quick, lots of rain, full-gas on climb, and full-gas on the descent. We are back in the thick of things,” van Garderen said. “I feel pretty good. Today was an appetizer for the mountains to come. So far, so good.”
Van Garderen shook off a pair of crashes in the rough-and-tumble stage 6. Though he lost time, he’s been able to fend off aches and pains to keep the podium within reach.
Unlike most of Froome’s other direct GC rivals, van Garderen is the most dangerous when it comes to the looming time trial in Logroño next Tuesday. While van Garderen likely won’t be beating Froome, he could nudge back into podium contention.
“Hopefully I can recover from these aches that I have after my crash. Hopefully it just keeps getting better,” he said. “We are going to see some longer climbs, less-explosive, so hopefully that suits more my style. Hopefully we can weed some people off the back, and if I am feeling really good, I can move off the front.”
Wednesday’s uphill finale will likely shuffle the Vuelta’s GC deck again. Let’s see if BMC Racing still has two in the top five at the finish line.