Nicolas Roche: 'Some of the insults thrown at us today have no place in sport'
Saturday, July 18, Stage 14: Rodez to Mende (178.5km)
Last night was the worst hotel we've had so far on this Tour but having arrived late in the evening, by the time I had a massage and dinner I was so shattered that I didn't spend much time in my dingy little room with my eyes awake.
After a 20-minute drive to the start this morning we were ready to try and control the first half of the race again, which turned out to be really tough as it took 70km for the break to go.
After an hour and a half or so of eyeballs-out racing, a group with nobody dangerous in it finally got clear, so we took a little breather before Yogi went to the front and set a steady tempo.
After about 100km, I went back to the team car for bottles in the valley and on the way back up I passed Sam Bennett, a 24-year-old from Carrick-On-Suir who is riding in his first Tour.
A very good sprinter, Sam came into this Tour a bit under the weather but still managed a top 10 on the only stage that suited him so far.
As I rode past, I gave him a tap on the shoulder and a few words of encouragement. The Tour is hard when you're in top shape and I know what it's like when you've come into a bit under the weather. Hanging on at the back can be tough mentally but it's a battle Sam is winning and hopefully he'll make it to Paris.
With the break over six minutes up, Richie led us over the 9km long second category Cote de Soveterre after 146km as Luke and Yogi grabbed a couple of bottles of water from spectators at the summit and poured them over their heads in an effort to keep cool before setting the pace to the penultimate climb, the fourth category Cote de Chabris.
Luke led us down the descent as Richie drifted back to the team car for one last load of bottles on the big wide road leading to the last two climbs.
Unfortunately the road narrowed suddenly as he made his way back up the inside of the peloton and instead of delivering his bottles Richie ended up standing at the side of the road with a front wheel puncture and never regained contact.
With just 5km between the top of the Chabris and the start of the climb to the summit finish in Mende, the Tinkoff-Saxo team of Alberto Contador came to the front on the penultimate ascent and the last kilometre was virtually a sprint to the top.
After a brief descent, Wout led us into the final climb where Leo took over at the bottom with me, G and Froomey behind him.
After a few minutes of climbing, Roman Kreuziger of Tinkoff-Saxo accelerated past Leo at the front. I followed him but then third-placed Nairo Quintana attacked quite early followed by Vincenzo Nibali.
I tried to make one last effort to accelerate to close the little gap but hadn't much left in my legs before I swung off.
As the breakaways contested the stage victory up ahead, there were lots of attacks from the group of GC contenders but Froomey was able to follow them all and led home the group for 20th on the stage four minutes later.
With Tejay Van Garderen losing time today, Quintana has leapfrogged the American into second overall now and even though he is three minutes down, the Colombian climber will be a real threat when we get to the Alps next week.
In the last few days a small minority in the crowd seem to have turned their attention towards us, and not in a good way.
There has always been a small minority of people who seem to just come to the Tour to get on TV, running in front of riders and waving to the cameras rather than watching the race.
I've lost count of the number of bare backsides lining the roadside.
What's that about?
They're not even looking at the race because they're facing the other direction.
But at least they're not doing any real harm.
As a team we've all been booed in the past few days and while people are entitled to like or dislike riders or even teams, things took a step darker today when I learned that Froomey had urine thrown at him during the stage while Luke was spat on as he climbed in a little group behind the peloton.
Having lived half of my life in France, I've always had a great relationship with French fans but the insults I heard from some of them today - again a small minority - have no place in any sport.
Added to the punch that Richie received from a spectator a couple of days ago, it's really hard to put up with.
The great thing about cycling is that unlike football or other sports, fans can get so close to the riders at the start, the finish and even on the roadside during the race but if this was a football match, some of these people would be arrested and banned from attending games in future.
I find it strange that we're getting booed when Michael Rasmussen, a rider who was thrown off the Tour in 2007 while in yellow, was welcomed back on the race as a newspaper columnist this morning.
On a happier note, I was delighted to hear that Steve Cummings won today's stage.
From the Wirral in England, Steve is a really nice guy and, like me, he has won a stage of the Vuelta but has been waiting 11 years for a Tour stage win.
The fact that he's riding for African team MTN Qhubeka and that the win came on Nelson Mandela Day made it even more special.
Sunday, July 19, Stage 15 Mende to Valence (183km)
With an uphill opening to today's stage, we arrived in Mende in plenty of time for a 20 minute warm-up in anticipation of the hard start.
Expecting fireworks, I joined the front row of the peloton on the start line. I wasn't disappointed.
While the first King of the Mountains line came after 9.5km today, the third category Cote de Badaroux continued for another 9km and by the time we got halfway up there were 27 riders up the road.
Pete had ridden hard in the early kilometres but was caught in a group behind the peloton as we climbed so, with nobody dangerous up the road, Wout and I got to the front and tried to control the tempo to allow him regain contact.
But that didn't happen as the Katusha team of Norwegian sprinter Alexander Kristoff came to the front immediately and started riding hard to catch the break.
A tailwind on the 40km long plateau that followed saw a 60kph chase stretch the peloton into one long line and all bar nine of the 27-man move were reeled in.
While we were okay on the wheels of Katusha, for anyone at the back it must have been mayhem.
After riding across the two fourth categories that followed, Luke led us down the 25km descent towards the feed zone with Froomey on his wheel.
The first part of the descent was really fast but an earlier thunderstorm left the second half soaked so we took it a bit more gingerly the rest of the way down.
At the bottom, we began to set an easier tempo that would let the break go and, as I was busting for a pee, I was just about to ask the guys if anyone wanted to stop when Katusha came thundering past us and off we went again.
We flew through the feed zone in Aubenas after 108km and the speed increased when we hit the second category Col d'Escrinet with 60km to go and the gap down to 1'40".
About a kilometre from the summit, Tinkoff-Saxo, who had Peter Sagan and Mick Rogers in the break, put in a short attack.
I don't know whether they were trying to break Katusha's rhythm or attack us but either way it was shut down pretty quickly.
A very fast descent saw the Spanish Movistar team overtake us at the front and they rode with Europcar to catch the rest of the break on a big wide road where we rode on the left hand side of in time trial mode to shelter Froomey.
Having looked at the road book on the bus earlier, we were expecting a pretty technical finish and the BMC team of Van Garderen obviously thought the same thing.
They hit the front with about 10km to go as I sat in the wind in front of Froomey to their left.
Wout and I rode in the wind until about 7km to go where Luke took over as Froomey's pilot for the finale, which ended in a bunch sprint won by Andre Greipel of Lotto Soudal.
Thankfully there was no change in the overall standings today but there wasn't one single moment when it eased up either and the 47kph average speed driven by the tailwind saw us arrive in Valence 15 minutes before the team buses.
Tomorrow we have two more second category climbs on the way to Gap, a town that always provide a story.
There is always something happening on the last climb, 11km from the finish, regardless of whether there's a breakaway group up the road or not.
Tour de France
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