Nicolas Roche: 'The spider bite had eaten into my arm like a bullet hole'
Paris-Nice Diary March 6: Prologue time trial, Conflans-Saint-Honorine (6.1km)
It's been an eventful few months since my last diary entry at the end of the Vuelta a Espana last August. Since then, I've got married in Monaco, gone on honeymoon, had a Polynesian protective tattoo inked on my arm in Bora Bora, been bitten by two spiders and hospitalised twice.
After honeymooning in Bora Bora, I decided to go to Australia's Gold Coast to get some warm winter miles in before Christmas. The first spider bite happened as I sat down on the roadside for a few seconds during a training ride to adjust a new set of shoes.
I felt something bite me on my lower arm, near the wrist, but passed it off as a mosquito and continued training.
When my arm began to cramp severely in the grocery store the next day though I knew something was wrong and found myself in hospital for three days.
On a stopover in Singapore on the way home, I bought a massive bronze statue of an elephant which I had shipped to my mother-in-law's house in Madrid. While breaking the wooden pallet the statue was wrapped in, I was bitten by another spider lurking inside.
I didn't feel it at the time but cramps in my legs and sweats that night were the first indication I'd been bitten again. A black dot soon appeared on my bicep and by the time I got home to Monaco two days later the bite had eaten into my arm like a bullet hole.
I ended up in hospital in Nice for three days but just as I began to recover from that I ended up in hospital again as the bacterial infection golden staph set into my wound and it took four weeks to get rid of.
So much for the protective tattoo in Bora Bora!
Because I wasn't training as much as I should have been the team were in two minds about how I should approach the early season: whether I should stay at home and train or go to the races and use them as training.
In the end they chose the latter option and I rode a few days of the Majorca Challenge at the end of January before the five-day Tour of Valencia and the Ruta del Sol a couple of weeks ago.
I struggled a fair bit in Majorca, was a bit better in Valencia and began to come around towards the end of Ruta del Sol.
A good two-week block of raining afterwards leads me to today and my first WorldTour race of the season, Paris-Nice. I'm not at 100pc yet but I'm a good bit better than a few weeks ago and hopefully I can continue to improve here.
As I was born in today's start town of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, the town's mayor presented me with a painting this morning before a local genealogist showed me how my mother's family have been living here since 1913.
My uncles and my Granny Arnaud were at the stage start this afternoon and were delighted when they got to follow my ride in a guest car, which was a new experience for my 72-year-old grandmother.
Today's prologue course was one that I like, not too technical, not too many corners. It had a little climb in the middle which was short but quite steep and in my third time trial of the year it was good to see that I felt much better than at Valencia and Ruta del Sol.
My time of eight minutes for the 6.1km race against the clock was the ninth fastest when I crossed the line but I knew the top time-triallists were still to come.
My time was good enough for 36th place in the end, 21 seconds behind stage winner Michael Matthews of Orica GreenEdge, it was another little sign of movement in the right direction.
Having won the recent Volta ao Algarve in Portugal, my Welsh team-mate Geraint Thomas is our main man here and got his race off to a good start with seventh place on the stage, just seven seconds down.
We've trained together for the last fortnight and I think 'G' is really up to the challenge of winning this Paris-Nice and he'll have the full support of a pretty strong Sky team here.
I'll have a quite versatile role this week, probably helping Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard on the flat in the first few days and then riding on the front on the first part of the big climbs later in the week.
After my topsy-turvy winter, I'm still a bit heavy for the high mountains but at least I'm getting the power back and hopefully I'll be able to support 'G' when he needs me.
Tomorrow's opening road stage is promising to be very difficult, especially if the weather forecast is right.
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