Saturday 20 December 2014

Cycling: 'I wanted to smash his head in. I couldn't stand to be near him'

Nicolas Roche

Published 20/07/2010 | 05:00

If John Gadret is found dead in his hotel room in the morning, I will probably be the primary suspect. The 31-year-old French climber has been a team-mate of mine at Ag2r for the past two years.

Although we never had more than what you could call a workmanlike relationship, we never had any reason to fall out or take a dislike to each other over the past two years. But after today's stage, as he sat beside me on the team bus I had great difficulty in not putting his head through the nearest window.

Today was yet another really tough mountain stage, with the summit of a massive mountain coming just 20kms from the finish.

At 25km long, the ascent of the Port de Bales is one of those climbs that is too hard to rank and is classed as an Hors Category climb. If anyone was going to attack the leaders today, this is where it would be.

As usual, the Saxo Bank team of yellow jersey Andy Schleck set a fast tempo on the climb and the peloton began to lose riders out the back door.

I knew that if I could hang on going over the top, I could take a lot of time out of some of the guys in front of me on the overall classification and move up a few places from my overnight position of 14th overall.

Halfway up the climb, I was riding pretty comfortably in the Contador and Schleck group and some of the guys ahead of me like Basso and Kloden were beginning to struggle. As most of the other team leaders were left on their own, I was looking to move into the top 10 overall and still had Gadret with me for support. Or so I thought.

Six kilometres from the top of the climb, just as the pace began to increase at the front, I punctured a front wheel. I pulled over to the side of the road and as Gadret was riding behind me, I asked him for his wheel as he rode alongside.

This is a perfectly normal request if the team car is not around. To save time, a team-mate will often give his team leader a wheel or even his bike if necessary. I have done it plenty of times over the years, as have most cyclists, amateur or professional, at some stage in their careers.

As our team car was No 11 in the cavalcade and it would take a lot of time for them to get to me through the streams of dropped riders, I asked Gadret -- who was there to help me -- for his wheel. I couldn't believe what happened next. He just shook his head and said 'Non'. At first I thought he was joking, but soon realised he wasn't when he kept riding past me.

As my team manager, Vincent Lavenu, in the car behind shouted into Gadret's earpiece to wait, I took my wheel out and waited for a new one. All the time the group -- including Gadret -- was riding up the mountain, away from me.

After what seemed like an eternity, I eventually got a front wheel off the yellow Mavic neutral service car. Because the Mavic cars have to service any rider that needs a wheel or is in mechanical difficulty when their team car can't get to them, they don't have their wheels set up to fit everybody's frames instantly.

My wheel change took way longer than normal as the mechanic unscrewed the wheel's skewer to fit my front fork. At this stage, I was like a bull. I hopped back on my bike only to discover that my new wheel had been put in at an angle and was rubbing off the brake blocks. I leaned down and opened my front brake and, fuelled by rage, started passing groups on the climb.

All I could think of was getting to the finish as quickly as possible. Rage alone though, wasn't going to get me back up to the front of the race. Unbelievably, Gadret had attacked Schleck and Contador near the top, even though there was a group five minutes up the road and he had absolutely no chance of winning the stage.

Vincent was still screaming in our earpieces, calling Gadret every name under the sun and telling him to wait for me on the descent and help me claw back some time on the long run in to the finish. Gadret, though, just ignored him and kept riding.

Encouragement

There were loads of Irish flags on the climb and the encouragement from the fans, some of whom were wearing GAA jerseys, spurred me on even more. I flew up the last kilometre and having passed lots of riders on the way up, I found myself on my own on the descent. I nearly killed myself on the first two corners because in my state of rage and frustration I had forgotten that my front brake was still open.

I had to tighten it as I was descending, which slowed me down again. I spent the rest of the stage on my own, chasing like a madman. I didn't know who I had passed or who was in front of me. I could see world champion Cadel Evans up the road and was fixated on catching him next but the line came too quickly.

I had finished almost eight minutes behind stage winner Thomas Voeckler but more importantly, I lost between three and five minutes to some of the guys that I should have put time into and dropped three places to 17th.

My team-mate Lloyd Mondory had also been in the early break and did a fantastic job to get fourth on the stage. Lloyd is a sprinter and this wasn't his type of stage at all, so to get fourth was a tremendous ride and even though I was angry at Gadret, I was really happy for Lloyd.

After the stage, I reminded Vincent that Gadret was on the team for another two years, and that I hoped he never asked me for anything again, because I would not forget today for a long time. Gadret finished three minutes ahead of me and now lies just two places and two minutes behind me. He is the first French rider overall. Maybe he wants to be the first Ag2r rider too.

By the time I got onto the team bus, Vincent was already in the middle of a blazing row with Gadret.

Although I wanted to smash his head in, and had visions of a baldy French climber exiting through the windscreen, I let Vincent do his job as team manager and said nothing. I got off the bus as quickly as possible and travelled to the hotel in the team car. I couldn't stand to be near him. I will have to keep my hands in my pockets at the dinner table.

Although I am too angry to have thought about it properly yet, I will possibly have to go on the attack now to gain back the time I lost today. If I want to finish in the top 15, I have two options.

I can hang in there on the climbs and hope some of the guys in front of me blow up like they did today, or I can get in an early move and try to stay away to the finish, taking back a bit of time.

I know a move like this can be suicidal and can cost you a lot of time, but I want to finish in the top 15. I'm 17th, so I have nothing to lose.

Irish Independent

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