Nicolas Roche: I knew that if I braked I'd crash. If I didn't I'd hit the kid
Published 06/07/2015 | 02:30
Saturday July 3rd, Stage 1: individual time trial Utrecht (13.8km)
Since we haven't been doing much training this week, I thought it would be good to get up early this morning and do 40 minutes on the rollers before breakfast.
Although the Tour's opening time trial didn't start until later this afternoon, we left the hotel at 10.30 and arrived at the start in enough time to do get two laps of the course done before the first rider rolled down the start ramp, which was just as well because it took a couple of times to remember which corners I could get around without having to touch the brakes.
After our recon ride we sat in the team bus in the start area, where I had some rice for lunch followed by a cup of coffee with my dad when he dropped in for a chat.
We watched the live coverage of the stage when it came on TV at 2.0pm and an hour later I hopped on the rollers for my usual warm-up before rolling to the start ramp to begin my seventh Tour de France.
While I never had any lofty ambitions of a high placing on today's stage, the atmosphere and the huge crowds along the route saw me get a bit carried away and I started quite full on before realising near the end that I was going to blow up if I didn't cop myself on a bit.
Today's flat course was suited to the really powerful riders, as former world hour record holder Rohan Dennis of BMC proved when he recorded an average speed of 55.4kph over the 13.8km race against the clock, the fastest ever Tour time trial.
While the Aussie pulled on the first yellow jersey of this year's Tour, I finished a minute and 20 seconds slower for 101st place.
I then swapped my time-trial bike for my road bike and hopped on the home trainer again for a half an hour warm down, just to get my muscles ready for tomorrow's opening road stage.
While my stage result was irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, for my team leader Chris Froome it was important to go flat out and try not to lose much time to any of his rivals.
I watched on the bus as Froomey finished 50 seconds behind Dennis for 39th place.
While his stage placing wasn't maybe as high as we've become accustomed to in time trials, Chris managed to take eight seconds out of Spaniard Alberto Contador and 11 out of Colombian climber Nairo Quintana while defending champion Vincenzo Nibali was seven seconds quicker than him.
Although we don't have an early yellow jersey to defend it will still be crucial for my Sky team-mates and I to ride at the front tomorrow as the route along the Dutch coast is notorious for crosswinds and could see some big splits occur in the peloton in the last 40km or so.
Sunday July 4th, Stage 2: Utrecht to Zeeland (166km)
Although we were greeted by blue skies and sunshine as we left Utrecht this morning we had all kept an eye on the weather forecast overnight and were expecting thunderstorms and strong crosswinds by the finish along the coast in Zeeland.
Perhaps with this in mind, there was no mad chase when four guys jumped clear as soon as race director Christian Prudhomme flagged the official start this morning and the quartet were allowed open a gap of around two and a half minutes.
The Etixx-Quickstep team of British sprinter Mark Cavendish were first to set the tempo on the front of the peloton, sitting just in front of the BMC team of yellow jersey Rohan Dennis with my Sky team-mates lined up behind the Swiss squad.
As we were expecting crosswinds in the latter part of the stage, my role today was to ride into the wind and keep the guys sheltered near the front, ready for any possible attacks.
We wanted to keep Luke Rowe, Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard fresh to help Froomey towards the end of the stage as this trio relish those spring classics conditions where the wind is blowing you sideways and the rain is lashing down.
While the breakaways sat a couple of minutes up the road, there were a few moves by other teams almost every time we hit a crosswind section and about 50km in, we found ourselves in the front portion of a large split in the bunch.
After about 10km of flat out riding in the crosswinds I found myself on the front of the peloton alongside Adriano Malori from Movistar and Matteo Tosatto of Tinkoff-Saxo as we swung into a headwind.
All three of us had been trying to get rid of each other's team leaders but with all of the dangermen still in the front group we just looked at each other and smiled before easing up and agreeing to catch a breather for a minute or two and keep the pace steady rather than spend the rest of the stage trying to half wheel each other.
Just before the intermediate sprint in Rotterdam after 80km, Geraint fell when somebody leaned across him and he was forced to change bikes when the impact cracked his frame.
Unfortunately for 'G' he was left to his own devices to get back on as we were all still trying to keep Froomey in a good position near the front and watching out for attacks.
After the intermediate sprint, a big black cloud up ahead indicated that we were riding into a storm and within a couple of kilometres it was as if somebody had switched off the lights. Although the rain was now torrential, there was no way anyone was going back to the car for rain jackets as the speed was so high you might not see the peloton again.
A crash in the last 50km split the bunch in two again, while I narrowly missed a second spill a few minutes later.
Having been sucked into the middle of the peloton as we went round a roundabout, I was coming up the outside of the bunch, trying to get back up to the front, when there was a massive crash in front of me.
In an effort to avoid the carnage, I veered up onto the grass, where a Dutch family out to watch the Tour go past were suddenly faced with a soggy Irishman speeding towards them. I knew that if I braked on the wet grass I was going to hit the deck but also knew that if I didn't I was going to hit their kid, who hadn't sensed the danger and was caught like a rabbit in headlights.
Thankfully, in the split second that both myself and the kid had to think about whether to go left or right, we missed each other and I was able to make my way back onto the road, ride around the fallers and begin my chase back to the peloton.
In the kilometre or two that it had taken me to regain contact after my off road detour though, the bunch had split again and I found myself in the third group on the road.
This group contained the yellow jersey of race leader Dennis but was being driven along by the Movistar team as both their leaders, Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana, had also missed the split.
While Froomey, 'G' and 'Yogi' Stannard had all made the front group, alongside rivals Contador and Tejay van Garderen, our climbers Richie Porte and Leo Konig were also in my group so I just tried to make sure they were okay as Movistar led the chase.
With 35km to go, we caught the second group on the road, which to my surprise contained last year's winner Nibali.
Although they joined forces with the Movistar boys at the front, they still lost a minute and a half to the front group by the end of the stage.
There were a lot of tricky little roundabouts in the last 8km or so, with Spaniard Joaquin Rodriguez and a few others crashing on one of them.
Knowing that we still have a hard three weeks ahead of us, and that any opportunity to save energy counts, Luke Rowe and I eased up in the last 5km and rolled to the line in a six-man group, finishing four minutes down on stage winner Andre Greipel of Lotto-Soudal.
Up front, Froomey managed to finish seventh on the stage and even took four seconds out of Van Garderen and Contador when the lead group split again in the final sprint.
It's been a hectic day, but a good day for the team with Chris gaining time on all of his main rivals apart from Van Garderen of BMC, who is just four seconds ahead.
It's been a decent start for us but this first week has the potential to turn everything on its head every day.
On the bright side, there's only three more Sunday's to Paris now.
Tour de France,
Live Eurosport 12.15, TG4 12.05