Saturday 22 July 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'Only 6km in, we were down to just six riders'

BMC Australia's Rohan Dennis celebrates after he won the team time trial and the yellow jersey during the third stage of the Dauphine Criterium cycling race between Roanne and Montagny
BMC Australia's Rohan Dennis celebrates after he won the team time trial and the yellow jersey during the third stage of the Dauphine Criterium cycling race between Roanne and Montagny

Nicolas Roche: Criterium du Dauphine

Tuesday, June 9, Stage 3: Team Time Trial from Roanne to Montagny (24.5km)

Although my Sky squad were to be the last team to roll down the start ramp in Roanne at 2.15 this afternoon, we wanted to give ourselves enough time to be able to ride the course ahead of the stage start, so we left our hotel at 8.15 this morning for the hour-and-a-half drive to the start village.

Having watched a video of the course on the way, we changed into our team kit on the bus before grabbing our time trial bikes and setting off for the finish in Montagny, 24.5km away.

The route was pretty good for a team time trial, with plenty of flowing corners and not much technical stuff. It was pretty hilly though, with a 5km climb just 3km in and then the last 10km all uphill.

At the finish, we hopped into the team cars and were driven back to the start for a lunch of omelette and rice before a quick debrief.

Crouched

As our depart time neared we began to get changed before our pre-stage warm-up on the rollers.

At Team Sky all of our race clothing is tailor-made for each rider and every little detail is taken into account.

Our Rapha skin suits, for example, are not only extremely light and aerodynamic but they are also cut to fit each rider best when you're crouched down in a time trial position, which makes them almost impossible to stand up in and very hard to get on.

Some riders like to wear a different kit on the rollers but because of the time taken to change into the skinsuit, I opted to get mine on early.

After warming up, I grabbed my aero helmet from the bus and we rolled to the start ramp, where I lined up in formation behind Chris Froome and ahead of Pete Kennaugh, two very strong time triallists.

I took a quick swig from the half-full bottle on my bike, before Ian Stannard led us down the ramp and got us up to speed pretty quickly.

'Yogi' is a renowned time triallist but his blistering start soon saw him in trouble and he was unexpectedly dropped from our line after about 4km. Wout Pawels, who is just back from injury, was next to suffer and only 6km into the stage we were down to just six riders.

It's always hard to pace yourself in a team time trial. You always want to give your all for the team but you can sometimes get sucked into doing too much and then leave yourself exposed on the later sections when everyone else is still feeling strong.

With the clock stopping on the fifth man across the line, there was even more temptation to ride harder to make up for the lost riders and I pushed quite hard in the first half of the stage.

I don't know if it was because of my crash at Liege-Bastogne-Liege but I was a bit nervous on the downhill section and left a bit of a gap between the wheels in front of me, meaning Froomey, Pete, Philip Deignan, Luke Rowe and Ian Boswell had to fill in the gaps as I tried to stay in contact behind them.

As we got to the intermediate check-point after 14km, a big screen told us we were 17 seconds down on the fastest time, but we also knew that the second half of the stage was the hardest and we still had a chance to close that gap.

As we came into a sharp turn right with about 12km to go however Luke Rowe's chain came off and that chance got a lot slimmer. Luke, a solid time triallist, managed to get it back on and even kept riding for a while before the erratic jumping of his chain forced him to pull over a few metres later and we were down to five riders - the bare minimum.

The last 10km was all uphill and because I hadn't pulled on the downhill, I went a bit over the top on the next section and found myself hanging onto Froomey, Pete, Philip and Boz for the last 3km.

Philip did a great ride today for somebody who's supposed to be a climber, while you'd never have guessed it was only Boz's second ever team time trial. Pete and Froomey were really strong today too and took a few long pulls on the front in those last kilometres as I gritted my teeth and hung on.

Dangermen

We crossed the line in a time of 30 minutes and 29 seconds to find we had lost 35 seconds to world team time trial champions and stage winners BMC, which was a bit of a disappointment considering we thought we had a real chance of winning the stage this morning.

We have lost the race lead to Aussie Rohan Dennis and also handed around half a minute advantage to dangermen Tejay Van Garderen, Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde but there's not much you can do about days like today. Team time trials are complex races and it only takes one slip-up or somebody to be feeling less than 100pc and things can go astray.

At the finish we put our bikes up on rollers and warmed down as we waited the extra 15 minutes it took the team bus to get from the start to the finish. At 228km, tomorrow is the longest stage of this race. After that we tackle the mountains, where we will have to go on the attack. After struggling a little bit today, hopefully I'll be ready for it.

Criterium du Dauphine,

Live, ITV4/Eurosport, 2.45

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