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Monday 26 September 2016

Nicolas Roche: I had notions of a stage win but it all went wrong

Nicolas Roche: Criterium du Dauphine

Published 13/06/2015 | 02:30

Portugal's Rui Costa celebrates winning the sixth stage of the Dauphine Criterium cycling race between Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur and Villard-de-Lans
Portugal's Rui Costa celebrates winning the sixth stage of the Dauphine Criterium cycling race between Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur and Villard-de-Lans

Friday June 12, Stage 6: Saint-Bonnet-en-Champseur to Villard-de-Lans (183km)

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On the team bus this morning we discussed the various scenarios that could unfold along today's route, which comprised six mountains, including the 15km-long first category Col du Rousset and a third category finish at Villard-de-Lans.

With the rain lashing against the windows as we got changed, we were hoping a small breakaway group would go clear early on and that the BMC team of race leader Tejay Van Garderen would control the stage until at least the Rousset, which came after 117km, but if needed to, we would give them a hand along the way.

Having looked at the profile of the last climb, which seemed to suit me, I even had notions of having a go for the stage win if everything went to plan and I was in a good position.

But things didn't go to plan.

The stage started off absolutely flat out, with the peloton strung out in one long line as waves of attacks came from the start.

I was totally unprepared for such a fast start and having begun the stage in the middle of the bunch, the combination of a snaking single file of riders, the speed and the spray from the wheel in front of me flying high into my face, meant I could barely see what was going on up front, let alone get there.

As my temperature increased with the speed, my heavy rain jacket began to suffocate me every time the road went up. But it was so wet and so fast that I had no time to take it off and could only manage to unzip the front and grit my teeth up the opening climb with it flapping behind me like a cape.

Chasing

As I hung onto the wheel in front of me, the rest of my team-mates were on the front chasing hard to bring back a 19-strong group, including race leader Van Garderen and overall contenders Vincenzo Nibali and yesterday's stage winner Romain Bardet.

With riders getting shelled out in handfuls behind me, I was sitting last man in a snaking line of about 50 riders as we got to the top of the third category Barrage du Sautet after just 30km, when the guy in front of me - unable to hack the pace anymore - suddenly swung out of the line and left me with a gap to fill if I was to gain shelter from the blustering crosswind on the plateau at the top.

I spent the next 5km fighting the wind on my own, dangling about 10 seconds off the back of the group. All I needed was a moment's lull in their speed and I was back on, but I also knew that if things kept going much longer my day was done.

Then it happened.

They went into a few bends and, on the second or third one, the invisible elastic between us snapped and I never saw them again.

I couldn't believe it.

I was really frustrated and having totally underestimated the way the stage would pan out I began to curse myself.

'How the hell did you let this happen? What were you thinking sitting so far back at the start? You never do that. Why did you do it today?'

With less than an hour done, my race was all but over for the day. Overheating like a car with a busted radiator, I took my rain jacket off and stuffed it in my back pocket as I waited for the next group, the main peloton, to catch me.

This group was being driven along by the whole Europcar team, who had also missed the boat and were trying to get Pierre Rolland back into contention.

By the second category Col de la Croix Haute after 67km, my team-mates up ahead had managed to close the gap to the break and got Froomey back to the front of the race.

But after a hard chase, they found themselves losing contact and drifting back towards my group as Nibali launched another attack on the Col de Grimone just a handful of kilometres later.

With strong men Valverde, Rui Costa and Tony Martin joining Nibali in the break on the descent, another furious chase up ahead soon left us around four minutes down, despite the continued hard riding of Europcar.

Already pretty pissed off with myself, my humour didn't get any better when I punctured a back wheel just before the feed zone, in the aptly named town of Die.

I barely had time to stop, get a new wheel, grab a feed bag and stuff my food into my pockets before we began to climb again, this time up the 15km-long Col du Rousset.

A time check of seven minutes to the front of the race halfway up the climb saw Europcar finally give up the ghost, and even though we were all hoping to make it back to the front, relief spread through the group as the pace eased slightly.

With the rain still teeming down and the rain jacket in my back pocket soaked through, I went back to the car and got a loan of Boz's spare jacket ahead of the long descent that followed.

The guys in the car told me that Philip was still in the chase group of around 40 riders with Froomey, but Nibali and Valverde's quintet had over three minutes' lead on them approaching the final climb.

Capes

Although a few riders around me had either thrown away their capes as they overheated during the chase or had their wet gear in team cars up the road with team-mates, everyone that needed an extra layer, a cap, or a pair of gloves, got them off somebody in the group, even if some guys ended up wearing different team colours for the last few kilometres.

With around 14km to go, we were told that Costa had won the stage and Nibali was the new race leader. We however, still had 36 minutes of riding left.

Philip managed to stay with Froomey until the final climb, where Chris managed to finish ninth on the stage. He's now in the same place overall, a minute and 21 seconds behind Nibali. It's obviously much harder to take back a minute and 20 seconds than his previous deficit of 40 seconds, but it doesn't mean the war is over just yet.

Nibali likes the rain and he was good today but he wasn't great yesterday. We weren't great today but we were good yesterday, so things can change pretty quickly on the two remaining mountain stages.

Tomorrow is the queen stage of this Dauphine, with five first-category climbs on the way to the very difficult summit finish at Mont Blanc.

We haven't spoken about our plans for tomorrow yet, and we definitely haven't said much about today. I think most of us just want to forget it as soon as possible.

Indo Sport

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