Tuesday 25 July 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'He ate so many gels he vomited as he climbed'

France's Romain Bardet (C) drinks as he rides a breakaway during the 195 km twelfth stage of the 102nd edition of the Tour de France
France's Romain Bardet (C) drinks as he rides a breakaway during the 195 km twelfth stage of the 102nd edition of the Tour de France

Nicolas Roche

Wednesday, July 15 - Stage 11: Pau to Cauterets (188km)

As winners of yesterday's team classification - which is awarded by adding the times of your three best riders every day - my Sky team-mates and I had to go to the podium this morning where we were each presented with a teddy bear in the shape of a cow and a little Bluetooth speaker.

As new leaders of the overall team classification too, we were then greeted by a brand new set of yellow helmets when we got back to the team bus afterwards.

As well as leading this Tour overall, Chris Froome also leads the King of the Mountains competition.

As he can't wear both jerseys, the polka-dot jersey goes to the rider in second place in that competition, which just happens to be Richie Porte.

So instead of a yellow helmet Richie got a red and white polka-dot one to go with his new jersey.

Today was one of those days where everybody thought a breakaway group had a great chance of staying clear to the finish so there were dozens of attacks in the early kilometres.

With Luke (Rowe), Yogi (Ian Stannard), Pete (Kennaugh) and myself given the job of trying to keep these big early moves under control we were kept really busy as an extremely fast start saw us cover 50km in the first hour of racing.

The riders make their way up the category one ascent of Castle Hill in county Clare during Stage 2 of the 2015 Junior Tour of Ireland. The stage was won by Nathan Pernot of NRPT-Magnet.ie while Gage Hecht still leads overall
The riders make their way up the category one ascent of Castle Hill in county Clare during Stage 2 of the 2015 Junior Tour of Ireland. The stage was won by Nathan Pernot of NRPT-Magnet.ie while Gage Hecht still leads overall

We didn't panic though, just kept a rhythm and invariably the bigger groups didn't work quite as well with each other and came back to us.

Control

Luke and Yogi led the chase on the flatter parts while myself and Pete tried to control things on the third-category climb of the Cote de Loucrup.

The bunch split in half before the intermediate sprint after 56km but we brought it back together and with the help of Leo (Leopold Konig), continued to ride after attacks on the fourth-category Cote de Bagneres-de-Bigorre and third category Cote de Mauvezin that followed and it took a full 85km of racing before an eight-man move finally went clear.

By that point, most of us had run out of bottles and energy gels so when the peloton eventually settled down, everyone took the opportunity to go back to their team cars for drinks and food.

I was parched so the first thing I did when we slowed down was to gulp down a cold bottle.

Luke and Yogi then did their usual rock-solid job of setting a steady tempo while I dropped back to the team car a couple more times to bring fresh bottles back up the guys at the front.

In the valley, Pete took over on the front, with me on his wheel. My cousin Dan (Martin) attacked after the feed zone for Garmin Cannondale but the break had a four-minute lead by then and I wondered what he was doing.

Dan did a great ride however to close the gap and joined the leaders 3km from the summit of the next climb, the first-category Col d'Aspin.

Here, Luke and Yogi set a good tempo as we climbed.

We were expecting some attacks from the peloton as we rode skywards but nothing happened.

With mountains points still available at the top, Richie came past Luke to add to his polka-dot jersey tally before Yogi led us down the descent and towards the longest, hardest, climb of the day, the Col du Tourmalet.

At 17km long, the Tourmalet is ranked as 'Hors Category' or 'out of category', the hardest ranking in cycling.

Again, Luke and Yogi set the pace as we climbed and things were going great until the light blue jerseys of the Astana team swarmed to the front about 5km in and began to up the tempo, sending both of them out the back.

I'm not quite sure what Astana were doing, because this morning they announced that their Danish rider, Jakob Fuglsang, was going to take over their team leader role as their defending Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali had lost time on the previous stages.

Astana rode so hard on the Tourmalet though that they soon began to drop people, whittling the group down to about 15 riders.

The problem was that they also dropped their own team-mates, including Fuglsang.

As we flew through La Mongie, about 4km from the summit, I was really struggling on Nibali's wheel. G (Geraint Thomas), who was riding behind me, told me on the bus afterwards that one minute I was solid but the next he could see my shoulders rocking.

"I knew you weren't going to last much longer," he laughed.

He was right.

I wanted to stay in the group to help the guys on the descent and in the valley below but I was going into the red, so when Astana upped it another bit, I let go, knowing that I'll have a lot of work to do again tomorrow morning. I grabbed a cold bottle from the team car as it went past before drifting back through the various groups of riders who had been dropped earlier in the climb.

As we climbed in 33-degree heat, some guys were grabbing bottles from spectators to pour over their heads to keep cool.

I don't like doing that but I must have drank 10 bottles today.

French rider Romain Bardet told me that he drank so much water and ate so many gels that he ended up vomiting in the peloton as he climbed.

Today was the second time I rode up the Tourmalet with the yellow jersey on my team, although they were in completely different circumstances.

In 2009, I led the peloton over the top with Ag2r team-mate Rinaldo Nocentini on my wheel in yellow behind me.

Today I spent the hour or so it takes to get to the top in various groups and the last 2km climbing with Fuglsang.

We spent the descent on our own before a big group caught us in the valley leading to the last climb of the day, the third-category finish in Cauterets.

Our little group all took turns riding into the headwind before sharing the workload on the ascent and crossing the line around 15 minutes behind the stage winner and my old team-mate Rafal Majka of Tinkoff-Saxo.

Combativity

Another great performance from Dan today saw him take another second place and earn himself the daily combativity prize.

In the favourites' group, Richie did a fantastic job, riding on the front down the descent and along the valley helping Chris finish ninth on the stage and hold onto his yellow jersey for another day, while G took 14th place and remains fifth overall.

Tomorrow is going to be a massive day on this Tour.

We have a second-category climb followed by two first categories and another Hors Category finish at Plateau de Beille after 195km.

A lot of guys got an easy ride today, sitting in the wheels as we rode into a headwind, so there are definitely going to be attacks and I'm sure I will have plenty of work to do en route.

Tour de France, Live, TG4/Eurosport/ITV4, 10.05

Irish Independent

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