Wednesday 28 September 2016

Nicolas Roche: 'Sam showed what he's capable of if he gets a chance'

Friday, July 10, Stage 7: Livarot to Fougeres (190.5km)

Nicolas Roche

Published 11/07/2015 | 02:30

Mark Cavendish celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the seventh stage of the Tour de France
Mark Cavendish celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the seventh stage of the Tour de France

With race leader Tony Martin forced out of this Tour after he broke his collarbone in the final kilometre of yesterday’s stage, there was a lot of conjecture this morning as to whether my team leader Chris Froome, who ended yesterday’s stage in second place overall, would wear the yellow jersey of race leader this morning.

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Most people speculated that Froomey would decline the jersey as a mark of respect for Martin and would not wear it until the end of the stage, if he still led the Tour then.

But the rules of the race meant that because Martin had actually finished yesterday’s stage, the German was still the overall leader of the Tour this morning and wouldn’t lose that title until he didn’t officially start today’s stage, so there was no decision to be made. The peloton simply left Livarot this morning without a yellow jersey.

I’m sure this confused some fair-weather roadside spectators who could be seen visibly straining themselves in an effort to pick out the race leader.

Although we had no yellow jersey to defend, we were still the team of the race leader this morning and in our pre-stage team briefing tried to work out how the stage was going to go.

Breakaways

As today was possibly the last real chance for the sprinters to snatch another victory before the Champs-élysées in a fortnight’s time, we came to the conclusion that their teams would be keen to bring back any early breakaways.

Because of this, we hoped we wouldn’t have to do that much work early on and, thankfully, that’s the way things worked out.

When five riders went clear just after the start this morning, they were allowed a short leash of around two-and-a-half minutes before the Lotto Soudal squad of double stage winner and current green jersey leader Andre Greipel and the Ettix Quickstep team of British sprinter Mark Cavendish put men on the front and held them there for most of the stage.

As the break was trying to establish itself up the road, we passed the finish line of a race called Paris-Camembert and I just happened to be riding alongside French rider Pierre Rolland of Europcar.

We both remembered back to when we were in the same breakaway groups coming to the finish in Paris-Camembert on two different occasions and had a bit of a laugh and chat about it for a few minutes.

The scenic views and little villages along today’s route reminded me a bit of rural Ireland and with no crosswinds or rain, things were a bit more relaxed until we set about recapturing the escapees in the last 60km or so. Like most of the overall contenders’ teams, my Sky team-mates and I soon began to move closer to the front and with the speed rising with every kilometre, the break had just over half a minute lead with 40km to go.

With Lotto-Soudal, Etixx-Quickstep, BMC, Movistar and Tinkoff-Saxo also riding hard on the front in the final 30km, we lined up on the left-hand side of the road, with Chris tucked safely in behind us and out of the wind.

Instead of using up riders one by one today, myself, Pete Kennaugh and Luke Rowe opted to swap shorter turns at the front, which gave  each of us a break for a few minutes before we hit the wind again.

Geraint Thomas was unlucky enough to puncture about 10km later but to keep Froomey up near the front and out of trouble, we had to continue riding to hold our position.

As ‘G’ got a new front wheel from mechanic Gary Blem, Richie Porte drifted down the back of the peloton where he waited to lead him back up to the front when the Welshman regained contact a couple of kilometres later.

With the last two escapees fighting it out to see who would stay away longest, and probably to win the daily combativity prize, we could see them dangling ahead of us with 14km to go and knew their time was up.

Having caught the break shortly after, Luke dived into a right-hander to get us to the very front in a narrow town and I did one last pull before swinging off and drifting back through the peloton with about 7km to go as Ian Stannard took Chris and ‘G’ to the line, where Cavendish took his first stage win ahead of Peter Sagan.

It was nice to see Carrick-on-Suir sprinter Sam Bennett take 10th on the today’s stage.

As a pure sprinter riding his first Tour, it can’t have been too much fun for him the last few days and a decent result today shows what he is capable of when he gets a chance.

Having taken the time bonuses for second place on the stage, Sagan is now 11 seconds behind Chris in the overall standings and there is a chance that he could go into yellow tomorrow.

That would give him and his Tinkoff-Saxo team – which contains Giro winner Alberto Contador – the advantage of starting off in last place on Sunday’s important team time trial.

Contenders

First, though, we have the Mur de Bretagne at the finish tomorrow, which may see the overall contenders face off against each other again, so we will probably be back on the front again tomorrow.

It’s not super important for Chris to keep the yellow jersey tomorrow – it won’t make us ride any faster in the team time trial if we start last or second last but it would be nice to hold onto it.

We have only 50km of a transfer to our hotel now but a massive traffic jam in Fougeres means it’s going to take a long time to get there.

Every day is the same. We finished the race more than an hour and a half ago and we are sitting on the team bus just two kilometres away from the finish line.

I find it really strange that the Tour de France has the capability to close the roads around France for three weeks but can’t get the riders out of town after a stage.

Tour de France, Live, TG4/ITV 4/Eurosport, 1.10

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