Nicolas Roche: 'Strap tan lines are a badge of honour'
Wednesday, May 25, Stage 17: Molveno to Casano d'Adda
When you spend three weeks in a row racing your bike, there are always going to be bad days. Days when the number of climbs on the route puts you in a bad mood, when the pouring rain makes you want to stay in bed or when the gusting wind lets you know it's not going to be an easy day in the saddle.
Today though, wasn't one of those days.
The sun was shining when we went down for breakfast and the view from the hotel was one of the most spectacular I've ever seen.
As our hotel was literally 200 metres from the start line, we had no transfer on the team bus before the stage and with a 190km flat day ahead of us, I was in a pretty good humour as we headed to sign on for the stage, to the extent that one of the French journalists asked me what I was so happy about.
After signing on, I wandered over to one of the little Giro Souvenir stalls nearby.
I've been looking for the race mascot, a cuddly grey wolf, for a friend of mine for the past few days but it's been sold out everywhere I've looked and this morning I had no luck either.
After a team meeting on the bus, I had to do a little interview with Eurosport where the commentator remarked on the Y-shaped white line that begins each side of my ears and runs underneath the chin of my otherwise tanned face.
These white lines are the by-product of wearing a helmet every time I ride my bike, even if it's only down the street for a coffee.
Almost everyone in the peloton has them to some extent or other, with some guys having the white shape of their sunglasses also permanently stencilled onto their face, but for some reason, maybe it's the Irish skin, mine never goes away, even in winter.
I got married in October and you can still see the white helmet strap tan lines in my wedding photographs. Like a farmer's tan, it's just part of the job and almost a badge of honour.
After that I went into the little village at the start for a coffee. The Giro start village isn't as big as the Tour village where the VIPs mingle and you can even get your hair cut before the stage.
Here, they just have a little place for the riders to have coffee and another one with sandwiches and cakes, although I tried not to look in that direction for fear of giving in to temptation.
When we lined up this morning all of the sprinters' teams were ominously standing on the front line of the peloton. If you wanted to go in the breakaway you literally had to go through them to get up the road.
Three guys went in the opening kilometres and although there were a few little skirmishes but with four or five teams willing to control the stage so that their sprinter could have a chance of victory at the finish, most of the peloton knew there wasn't much point in trying to get up the road.
When the gap went to five minutes, the Lampre, Trek Segafredo and Dimension data teams brought it back under control and even though another few riders got across to the front towards the end, the peloton came to the finish together.
When my German team-mate Christian Knees decided to give the finish a go, I tried to give him a hand to get into position in the last two kilometres.
When he said 'go', I went but the problem was that Kneesy didn't follow me and got boxed in. Kneesy's not a true sprinter but he still managed to get back up to the front and got 19th on the stage.
Back on the bus though I couldn't resist having a little dig at the big German.
'Where were you?' I asked.
'I was so focused, I even told you to go in German,' he laughed. 'But when you went I hesitated for a second and I lost your wheel.'
In the end it was another German, Roger Kluge of IAM, who took stage victory after a late attack.
The win comes at a very good time for him as his team are folding at the end of the year.
As we had won the team competition, for the first three riders from each team over the line, on yesterday's stage we had to go to the podium after today's stage to collect our prize.
Here, myself, David Lopez, Philip and Boz were rewarded with a cuddly wolf Giro mascot each.
I knew this morning it was going to be a good day.
Giro d'Italia, Live, Eurosport, 1.45pm
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