independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Nicolas Roche: I'd love to seize yellow in adopted home town

Team time trial triumph in Nice could catapult me into Tour lead – and realise my dreams Monday July 1 Stage 3: Ajaccio – Calvi (145.5km)

The packs with Jan Bakelants of Belgium, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, rides along the Mediterranean Sea near Calcatoggio during the third stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 145.5 kilometers (91 miles) with start in Ajaccio and finish in Calvi, Corsica island, France, Monday July 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

There was a lot of talk about today's stage when the Tour route was initially unveiled. How there wasn't an inch of flat road on the way to Calvi. How it would be as hard as the Liege-Bastogne-Liege Classic. How the second-category climb of the Col de Marsolino would break the race up with just 12km to go.

As well as the four categorised mountains along today's route, there were umpteen uncategorised climbs, which meant that most of the peloton expected a dogfight in the first hour as the early breakaway tried to establish itself.

Instead, Lieuwe Westra of the Vacansoleil team jumped clear after 2km and was quickly joined by Sebastien Minard of Ag2r, Alexis Vuillermoz of Sojasun, my old training partner Simon Clarke of Orica-GreenEdge and Cyril Gautier of Europcar.

Much to the relief of most of the peloton, instead of setting off a series of incessant counter-attacks, race leader Jan Bakelants' Leopard Trek team-mates went to the front almost immediately and set a steady tempo for the rest of the stage, meaning the decisive action, if there was to be any, would happen on the final climb with 12km to go.

RUPTURE

As Leopard Trek led us onto the Marcelino a few hours later, the breakaway had already begun to rupture and most of them dangled just half a minute ahead while Clarke, who had taken maximum points on all three previous climbs, tried to stay clear and take the single point he needed at the top to take over the lead in the King of the Mountains competition.

As we have done since the start of this Tour, my Saxo-Tinkoff team rode pretty close together and stayed near the front on the ascent. We knew it would be important as there was just a 12km descent to the finish afterwards.

But there was a strong headwind so when current King of the Mountains Pierre Rolland soloed clear off the front and foiled Clarke's bid to take over his polka dot jersey, there wasn't much to worry about, even if he was joined on the descent by Sylvain Chavanel of Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Belkin's Lars Petter Nordhaug and Mikel Nieve of Euskaltel.

Behind them, however, former winner Cadel Evans and Spaniard Alejandro Valverde also accelerated away from the front of the peloton in a little group and opened a small gap.

I was sitting in seventh or eight position, alongside my team leader Alberto Contador when, sensing the danger, he turned to me and told me to close the gap. I did maybe a 40-second sprint before settling into a good tempo at the front of the peloton.

I knew the guys ahead weren't going to waste their energy riding 100m in front of the bunch to the finish, especially as it was only the third day of the Tour, and my presence on the front was probably enough for them to ease up a bit. It wasn't long before they were back in the fold.

Orica GreenEdge took over at the front for their sprinter Simon Gerrans as we caught the escapees in the final 3km. There was a bit of jostling in the bunch and my team-mates Mick Rogers and Roman Kreuziger had to bounce up and down in the gutter to keep Alberto out of the wind and out of trouble. Coming into the last few hundred metres there were a lot of corners and with no point risking a sprint this early in the race, I just made sure there were no time gaps and crossed the line for 23rd place on the stage and held onto 11th overall.

With the team buses already on the ferry for the transfer to the mainland, we showered in a sports stadium after the stage before hopping on one of three buses headed for the local airport and the one-hour flight to Nice.

Race organisers ASO prepared us a goody bag for the flight with a bottle of water and a sandwich, not exactly a five-star meal, but the team also had food ready for us before we left.

I think my Saxo-Tinkoff team has a good chance to win the 25km team time trial tomorrow if we get a bit of luck. But BMC, Sky, Garmin-Sharp and Movistar are also contenders.

Indeed there are a lot of teams – even the sprinters' teams who are used to riding flat-out on the flat roads and have a lot of horsepower – who will be up there as well.

I know the stage by heart. I've lived in nearby Antibes for years and my parents live there too. I train on the roads three or four times a week when I'm home and would love to be able to stand on the podium with my team-mates as a stage winner at the Tour in my adopted home town.

It only occurred to me now that if we won the team time trial and I led the team over the line, I could go into yellow in my home town. I've always dreamt of winning a stage and even winning the team time trial and getting on the podium would be fabulous.

To lead the Tour de France and wear the yellow jersey in Nice is probably stretching it a bit much, but that's why they're called dreams.

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