Sunday 25 June 2017

Nicholas Roche ‘We took a severe beating today and lost all hope of winning this race’

Italy's Sonny Colbrelli celebrates as he crosses the finish line at the end of the 195 km second stage of the 75th edition of the Paris-Nice cycling race. Photo: AFP/Getty
Italy's Sonny Colbrelli celebrates as he crosses the finish line at the end of the 195 km second stage of the 75th edition of the Paris-Nice cycling race. Photo: AFP/Getty

Nicholas Roche

Monday March 6, Stage 2 - Rochefort-en-Yvelines to Amilly (192.5kms) Nine kilometres. That's all we got today. Nine miserable kilometres to ease the legs back into the day, maybe have a sip of water or say hello to the guy next to you.

Nine kilometres of peace and quiet. Then the attacks came.

The weather was even worse than yesterday, four degrees and lashing rain. At least when we rode out this morning a long section of forest protected us from the gusts for a few minutes and lulled us into a false sense of security as we headed towards the only climb of the day, a third-category.

Nine riders jumped clear to contest the points on offer and were a few seconds clear at the top when the forest disappeared and the wind came howling around us. After yesterday's carnage in the crosswinds, most of us were praying for a headwind today to slow everything down a bit, make it easier to hide in the bunch and save the legs.

Instead we got the most vicious of wind of all, a three-quarter tailwind. Within seconds the violent gusts blew the bunch apart and sent everyone scrambling for shelter.

The problem with crosswinds is the amount of riders able to get shelter is determined by the width of the road. Everyone fans out in an 'echelon' - a diagonal line of riders. Everyone takes turns to ride into the wind at the front.

But too many riders in the group means those at the back are pushed into the opposite gutter and get no shelter at all, so it's easier to start another echelon right behind the first one than it is to try and hang on, unsheltered, in the gutter.

A cross-tailwind means all of this happens much faster and the speed is a lot higher. Just 15km into today's stage the peloton had disintegrated into nine echelons, with yours truly caught in the fourth due to lack of concentration and bad positioning.

Echelons are a weird law unto themselves in cycling. If your echelon catches another group but gets too big for the size of the road, it's a lottery. Sometimes you make it into the front portion, but sometimes you're on the wrong side and are better off slowing down and waiting for the next echelon a couple of seconds behind. This is a dangerous tactic, though: if there's no room for you there you could find yourself out the back again.

We covered 98km in the first two hours as echelons formed and fell apart every few minutes. I yo-yoed from the fourth group on the road to the third, back to the fifth and up to the fourth again.

Up ahead, my BMC team leader Richie Porte made it across to a large front group of 50 riders before their numbers saw the barging and fighting for position begin.

Most Irish 12-year-olds are bigger than Richie and unfortunately we weren't there to protect him and he found himself drifting back as 22 riders pulled clear.

As my group closed on an echelon ahead just after the feed zone after 110km, I noticed a lot of red jackets in the group ahead. I was hoping Richie's wouldn't be one of them but my worst fears were confirmed when we made contact and he was in there, over two minutes down on his rivals for the overall.

My BMC team rode hard on the front to try and close the gap to the front of the race with 80km still to go.

We chased for a long time but even with others helping us we weren't able to bring it down and eventually resigned ourselves to the fact that we weren't getting back to the front. A big group caught us in the last 30km or so where a headwind came as a bit of relief for me.

My hands had been freezing all day so I changed gloves in an effort to get the blood flowing back into my fingers before we rolled across the line 15 minutes down on stage winner Sonny Colbrelli (pictured).

Today's result is a major setback for our team. We took a severe beating and we've lost all hope of winning this Paris-Nice but to be fair to Richie, he just patted all of us on the back when he got on the bus. He's professional enough to know that there is nothing to be gained by being grumpy or giving out. We will just have to change tactics from now on.

Absolutely wrecked, I ignored the clamour for the showers on the bus, instead drying off and putting warm clothes on for the 20-minute drive to the hotel. The water turned out to be cold anyway.

On a brighter note for Irish fans, both Dan Martin and Sam Bennett made it into the front group and I have to say, my cousin is looking more and more like the dark horse for this race.

Paris-Nice,

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Irish Independent

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