Thursday 21 September 2017

'It's a cruel sport at the best of times but Dan has been really unlucky'

Friday May 9, Stage 1: Team Time Trial, Belfast (20.8km)

Nicolas Roche

Ahead of this evening's opening team time trial, the roads were closed to traffic for two hours so that every team could get an opportunity to check out the course.

With three of the younger guys never having ridden a team time trial, my Tinkoff-Saxo outfit spent a lot of time this morning going through the basics and talking about how we were going to manage the more technical aspects of the course.

We did two full laps of the course before heading back to the hotel, where, after a bit of a debriefing in the lobby, we had lunch, packed our bags for the stage and tried to relax before heading to the start.

A lot of riders don't like team time trials, but I actually love them. They're as tough as hell, but I just love the tension of it all – it's probably the most exciting event for me. Riding a team time trial is a very intense experience, both mentally and physically.

As well as trying to set the fastest time on the day, you also have to manage the whole team's efforts so that you get the best out of everybody.

If you're way stronger than everyone else, you can't disrupt the team rhythm by riding harder as it just hurts your team-mates even more.

Daniel Martin suffered a broken collar bone when four riders from his Garmin-Sharp team crashed during the team time trial of the Giro d'Italia in Belfast last night
Daniel Martin suffered a broken collar bone when four riders from his Garmin-Sharp team crashed during the team time trial of the Giro d'Italia in Belfast last night

If you're not going so well, you still have to try and get every last joule of energy out of yourself so that the team can get the best time possible and, with the time stopping on the fifth man across the line, you can't afford to lose men mid-stage.

For spectators, it's a great spectacle, with nine guys riding really close, really fast, on all the latest equipment.

But the same things that make it appealing make it dangerous; the low-profile handlebars, the disc wheels, the tiniest distance between each wheel.

A lot of riders hate the team time trial as it's so complicated and intense, but I love it for the same reasons.

After warming up in front of the team bus at the start area in the Titanic Quarter, Tinkoff-Saxo were the third team to start this evening's stage, rolling down the start ramp at exactly 6.0.

I have to admit I was a bit nervous on the start, but not as nervous as my Russian team-mate Evgeny Petrov.

Evgeny had been dropped in the first kilometre of the Vuelta team time trial last year and was so worried that the same thing might happen to him here that the pressure got to him, he cracked and it happened again. It was hard to tell how well we were going because we had a strong tailwind on the way out and a strong headwind on the way back to the finish and the last 3km were a bit dodgy with all the corners in the rain.

We had worked a lot on the climb to Stormont this morning and had planned for me to do a long turn on the front leading into the climb and then for my Aussie team-mate Michael Rogers to take over on the hill itself.

He did a great job up the climb, riding on the front all the way to the top at a steady pace that meant we were all on the limit but not over it.

By the time we got to the last corner we knew we weren't going to win the stage, so it was very important to try and get to the line as quickly as possible, so I led the team into the corner and then the faster finishers took over at the front.

We did a pretty good time, finishing 23 seconds behind stage winners Orica GreenEdge for fourth place on the stage, one place ahead of Philip Deignan's Sky team.

Evgeny came up to me afterwards and said that he was really sorry about getting dropped so early, that he was worried about the stage and panicked as soon as we started.

I told him not to worry about it, we did a decent time and there's plenty more racing to do before the end.

The crowds today were unbelievable, three or four deep in places. On the way back to the bus there were so many people waiting outside that, after getting changed, I probably spent a half an hour signing autographs and posing for photos.

The Giro is not going to be coming here for a long time again and everyone had waited all day in the bad weather, so it was only fair that I made a bit of an effort.

HAPPY

I was feeling pretty happy with myself as I stepped back onto the team bus to go to the hotel, only for one of the fans to tell me that my cousin Dan Martin had crashed and it didn't look like he was getting up.

At the moment, I'm not 100pc sure, but it looks like he has a broken collarbone and his Giro is over. If that's true I feel really sorry for him.

Cycling is a cruel sport at the best of times, but Dan has had a really unlucky spell in the last few weeks. He crashed on the last corner, with 200m to go, at Liege-Bastogne-Liege a couple of weeks ago, just as it looked like he was going to win the race for the second year in a row, and now this.

Like myself and Philip, as an Irish rider Dan has been waiting for the opportunity to ride this Giro for a lifetime and, of the three of us, probably came into the race with the best form and a chance of maybe even winning the race. It's horrible news. I feel so sorry for him.

Irish Independent

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