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Thursday 17 August 2017

Nicolas Roche: Voeckler's front wheel blew up at 75kph on the descent

The yellow jersey group rides past fans during yesterday’s short and sharp 101km Stage 13 of the Tour de France from Saint-Girons and Foix. Photo: Getty Images
The yellow jersey group rides past fans during yesterday’s short and sharp 101km Stage 13 of the Tour de France from Saint-Girons and Foix. Photo: Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Friday, July 14 - Stage 13:

Saint Girons to Foix (101km)

The 14th of July is Bastille Day in France and, like our St Patrick's Day, it's the biggest national holiday in the country, which means the roadside is always full of fans and there is a party atmosphere.

Having taken two stage wins already on this Tour de France, through Arnaud Demare on stage four and Romain Bardet yesterday, it's been a good race so far for French riders.

Bardet got a full page in 'L'équipe' this morning under the heading 'Allez Bardet' although comparing him to former French favourite Richard Virenque wasn't exactly a great choice.

Even though they haven't had one since David Moncoutie did it in 2005, French cycling fans always expect a French winner on Bastille Day.

With the home riders always keen to impress, it was no surprise to see former French champion Thomas Voeckler and King of the Mountains leader Warren Barguil fire the first salvo on today's stage with an attack from kilometre zero this morning.

The duo hung a few seconds up the road for around 10km before constant counter-attacks from the peloton brought a 20-strong group containing myself and my team-mate Alessandro De Marchi across the gap and things stalled for a few seconds.

There are always fireworks on Bastille Day and as today, at 101km, was the shortest stage of this year's Tour, with three first-category mountains within 50km of each other, it was only a matter of time before somebody else lit the fuse.

I followed a few moves before 'Demma' jumped again after Direct Energie's Sylvain Chavanel and Philippe Gilbert of Quickstep.

Chavanel led the trio through the intermediate sprint in Seiz as I crossed the line in ninth, keeping watch for the next taxi across the gap.

As Demma rode away from his companions on the first-category Col de Latrape, the attacks kept coming behind, with Barguil very active and keen to add more points to his lead in the mountains competition.

Breakaway I put so much pressure on myself to be in the breakaway today that I spent the first 30km or so riding as if I was in a junior race.

As the aim of the team was to get a couple of riders into today's break, I tried to follow every move behind Demma's group in the hope of a free ride across to the front but by the time I got to the top of Latrape I had chased so many non-runners that I had put myself well into the red and was suffering.

With the peloton split in smithereens at the top, I was with seven or eight others in the fourth group on the road, about 30 seconds down on the yellow jersey group, who were in turn about 30 seconds down on Demma.

Coming into the next climb, the Col d'Agnes, after 40km, I was hoping the race would settle down and we would make it back into the yellow jersey group but when I heard on the radio that Alberto Contador and Mikel Landa had attacked, I knew there was little chance of that happening.

We were two minutes down at the top.

A group of maybe ten guys caught us on the climb and with four Fortuneo riders in the group they rode hard the whole way up to try and get their leader and climber Brice Feillu back into contention.

When we hit the bottom of the final climb, it was so narrow that they didn't let spectators onto it, so there was a massive crowd on the corner leading into it before we were greeted by silence on the slope itself.

After the Fortuneo guys attacked us and rode off, Demma was one of a handful of riders who came back to our group in the last 40km and we all took it steady to the top of the first-category Mur de Perguirre before taking turns into he wind on the descent.

On the fast twisting downhill, Voeckler pulled off a save that Packie Bonner would be proud of.

Descending at 75kph, we were heading into a chicane, which was one of those chicanes where there was no real need to brake, when I heard a loud BANG in front of me.

I looked up to see Voeckler's front wheel had exploded on the way into the first bend.

With the wheel wobbling underneath him he shot straight through the chicane, hurtling up onto the grass before somehow managing to get out the other side and back onto the road again, where he eventually came to a stop.

I was about three guys behind him and having just about had time to change my line to get around him safely, I was sure he was going to hit the deck.

It was some save, even if we didn't see him for the rest of the stage.

My group all took turns riding through into the wind for the last 20 kilometres before rolling across the line 15 minutes after Warren Barguil had ended the day as he had started it, at the front, and became the first Frenchman in 12 years to win on Bastille Day at the Tour.

Earlier on in the stage, Barguil had had a go at me after I'd followed him up the road a few times.

Thinking I was just marking him, he took it personally, when the truth was I was just following anything that moved in the hope that it would be the right one.

Barguil is a good friend of my room-mate Amael so I've got to know him a little bit this year.

At the Tour of Romandie in May his hands were so cold that he couldn't pull his brakes and he went straight into a roundabout, breaking his hip in the crash, so today was a great comeback for him.

Back on the team bus afterwards, I sent him a message to congratulate him on his win and tell him that maybe if I'd only followed him, instead of everybody else, I would have been up the road today too.

He hasn't answered it yet but he's probably getting his flowers and champagne now as I make do with my cup of tea.

Tour de France,

Live, TG4 1.10 / Eurosport 12.0

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