Sunday 24 September 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'My arms were so cold I couldn't reach my food'

Tour of Romandie - Thursday, April 27, Stage 2: Champery to Bulle (161km)

Swiss Stefan Kung celebrates after winning the second stage of the
Swiss Stefan Kung celebrates after winning the second stage of the "Tour de Romandie" UCI protour cycling race, a 136,5 km ride from Champery to Bulle. Photo: AFP PHOTO/GETTY

Nicolas Roche

As it began snowing after yesterday's stage, rumours began to spread around the hotel last night that today's stage might be shortened in order to avoid the carnage that an icy 17km-long opening descent would bring.

At 9.0 this morning we got confirmation that we would drive to the start village, sign on for the crowds that had braved the elements to come and see us, and then take the team buses down to Aigle, where the stage proper would begin.

On the way, we held our usual pre-stage meeting and discussed whether we should take the race on today or leave it up to other teams instead.

In the end our directeur sportif Fabio Baldato decided that we'd concentrate on protecting team leaders Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen in the peloton but that we had one other card to play.

"Stefan and I had a talk last night," he said, nodding towards my 23-year-old Swiss team-mate Stefan Kung.

"He won a pretty similar stage here a couple of years ago and he's going to try go in the break today. He knows the roads. He's strong. He likes the bad weather. If it works, it works, if not well, we still have six guys to look after Richie and Tejay."

Stefan seemed up for the plan so we all nodded and donned our jackets to step out into the cold.

After a kilometre, Sander Armée, who lay second overall in the King of the Mountains, attacked in an effort to get to the climbs first.

He was soon joined by Andry Grivko of Astana, Frederik Veuchelen of Wanty Groupe Goubert and our man Stefan. They weren't given too much leeway initially but soon began to open a decent gap and were out of sight.

The rain began to lash down as we rode up the third category climb at Esmonts an hour later and with a long descent ahead of us and an even higher climb after that, we knew it was about to get a whole lot colder so Daniel Oss went back to the car for a fresh pair of gloves for Richie and me.

When he handed me my gloves I realised I'd made the mistake of leaving them inside out after they were washed last night and my hands were so cold that it took me 5km to get them on.

After the descent of the next climb, with around 30km to go, I tried to get a rice cake out of my jersey pocket but my arms were so stiff and my jacket pocket was so high up my back and so tight with all the layers underneath it that I simply couldn't get my hand in.

Just when I was about to give up trying, I felt the pocket stretch and turned around to see my good friend Simon Clarke of Cannondale riding beside me holding it open so that I could grab my food.

With about 40km to go, some of the teams came up and the pace got really high as the sprinters tried to reel in Stefan and his fellow escapees but they had left it too late and they still had three minutes as we approached the 25km finishing circuit, where roundabouts, cobbles, tram lines and traffic cones made things really dangerous in the wet.

Thankfully it felt safer coming into the finish itself, maybe because the stage win had already been contested 20 seconds earlier by three of the four breakaways.

Upon crossing the line, we were herded unceremoniously in single file though a narrow gate into the car park to the team buses, where we were told that Stefan had won the stage. We were so cold on the bus that the celebratory high fives that followed actually hurt.

I got showered in a flash so that I could be clean enough to put dry clothes on to try and get warm.

When we reached the hotel, I hit the shower again and stood there for ages letting the hot water bring my temperature back up.

It's great to get a stage win in any race but the fact that Stefan is a young Swiss rider, on a Swiss team, in his home race, made today even better.

We'll probably get a glass of champagne to celebrate his win at dinner tonight but after a day like today, I think I'd settle for a hot chocolate instead.

Tour of Romandie, Live, Eurosport 2, 3.0

Irish Independent

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