Sitting eighth overall, Irishman Nicolas Roche is currently the best-placed Anglophone and is on course to record his highest ever Grand Tour finish.

Blinking in the Spanish sunshine after finishing in the first peloton on the road to Vilanova i la Geltru, the 26 year old remarked on the difficulty of the stage after the race’s first rest day: “It’s always hard for everyone: I think there’s been more harm than rest.”

In a scorching Vuelta, even by its own standards, the Irishman has kept a cool head. “It’s been very hot since the start of the Tour of Spain. I’ve gone pretty well, for my sake anyway. I came here with ambitions to be around tenth, twelfth place, so I’m on schedule.”

However, the Ag2r-La Mondiale leader knows thats that the decisive racing will come from here on in.

“Nothing’s done, the hardest stages are still to come and tomorrow I’ll know a little bit more how I can climb on those long climbs; the short ones are the ones that suit me better.

“It’s a completely different way of climbing, so I’ll see how I go. Straight away, I’ll have a better idea of whether I can keep a top 10 or eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth [his finishing position in the 2008 Vuelta, and previous Grand Tour best], whatever.”

Five weeks ago, Roche finished 15th overall in the Tour de France, also having a significant spat with teammate John Gadret after the latter refused to give him a wheel after a puncture at a decisive moment.

When asked how much the race took out of him, Roche smiled and said: “It took too much out of me, but I had a good month of August, stayed focus and I’m happy I was able to manage this one.”

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