Sunday 25 June 2017

Roche: ‘It’s a bad sign when your granny gets more time on podium than you do’

Saturday, March 11, Stage 6: Nice to Col de la Couillole (177km)

Ireland’s Daniel Martin is held aloft by his QuickStep Floors team-mates after his third-place finish in Paris-Nice yesterday. The QuickStep team were also celebrating their best team award. Photo: Getty Images
Ireland’s Daniel Martin is held aloft by his QuickStep Floors team-mates after his third-place finish in Paris-Nice yesterday. The QuickStep team were also celebrating their best team award. Photo: Getty Images

Nicolas Roche - Paris-Nice Diary

After a long transfer to our hotel last night, I went to bed early and settled down to watch the Ireland v Wales game on TV.

Although we don't ride on the same team any more, Sky duo Geraint Thomas and Luke Rowe are big Welsh rugby fans so when Johnny Sexton kicked the opening penalty, I made sure to text both of them to let them know.

As usual, they were watching the game and let me know all about George North's first try and eventually had the last laugh.

With a summit finish atop the 16km Col du Couillole - the highest peak tackled in Paris-Nice - today was always going to be the decisive day in this year's race.

Although my BMC team were no longer in the fight for overall glory, this morning we wanted to ensure our best climber and team leader, Richie Porte, got to the final climb with the best possible chance of winning the stage.

When four riders went clear on the first climb after 10km, race leader Julian Alaphilippe's Quickstep team took control before two more guys attacked and bridged across to the lead quartet just after the top.

When their lead went out to four minutes after 20km, Luke Rowe rode up and asked if my BMC team were going to ride at the front.

Chance

Sky knew they had a chance of taking the yellow jersey with second placed Sergio Henao on the final climb but they also knew that having lost 15 minutes earlier in the week, the only thing we could take out of this race was a stage win with Richie and in order to do that, we'd have to bring the break back.

After a quick chat, we put two riders, Fran Ventoso and Danilo Wyss, on the front alongside Sky's Michal Golas and the chase was on. The trio set a perfect tempo over the first category Col de Vence before spending the next 90km on the front while the rest of us made sure Richie had bottles and food and was sheltered from the wind.

Before the 16km, first category Col de Saint Martin, with 45km to go, the pace ramped up considerably as all of the team leaders tried to get to the front. Myself, Alessandro De Marchi and Amaël Moinard were alongside Richie for the climb but when Allesandro hit the front at the bottom, he put myself and Amael in a bit of trouble. I was soon in the red.

By the top, the peloton had split and I'd lost about a minute but my group regained contact in the valley, just a kilometre from the final climb.

Here, Philip Deignan hit the front for Sky on the slope and struggling after my chase, I never managed to get further up the group than midway and was of little help to Richie.

One by one, riders were spat out the rear of the group and soon I was sitting precariously close to the tail end of the line.

With 10km to go Colombian Jarlinson Pantano accelerated and this time I was in the handful of riders that got dropped.

At first I found myself in a little group with Friday's stage winner Simon Yates but, well into the red, I didn't last too long with them and did most of the climb on my own.

As the snow increased at the side of the road and the temperature dropped, I could hear the race unfold in my earpiece.

'Richie has attacked... 'Richie has 10 seconds'... '12 seconds'

I was almost as nervous as the directeurs in the car as I climbed but while they could see the action unfurl live on the little TV screen in the car, I was riding blind and wasn't sure what the group behind Richie was doing. When I heard he had 20 seconds with around 500m to go though, I was much happier and pretty soon the good news came.

"Richie has won the stage."

Afterwards, I learned that my cousin Dan Martin had moved up to second overall, just 30 seconds off new race leader Sergio Henao. With Alberto Contador just a second further back this race isn't ovr yet.

Sunday, March 12, Stage 8: Nice to Nice (115.5km)

As my Nana and Grandad have travelled over from Ireland this weekend to see their grandsons race, the organisers brought them up on to the sign-on podium ahead of this morning's stage and made a little presentation to them.

I suppose it's a bad sign when your granny gets more time on the podium than you at a WorldTour race but at least Dan got his own back when he finished third overall at the end of the stage.

As expected, Contador's Trek Segafredo guys made the race as hard as possible for Dan and race leader Heano today, before the Spaniard blew the race apart on the penultimate climb.

Contador bridged across to the breakaways, putting enough time into everyone to leapfrog Dan and Henao, and become virtual leader on the road, only to lose out on overall victory by two seconds when Dan's team-mate David De la Cruz out-sprinted him for the stage win and the 10 seconds time bonus at the finish.

Oblivious to all of this, I finished in a big group six minutes down to finish 18th overall and was looking forward to going home for a rest.

At the finish, I was greeted by my wife Debbie and Dan's wife Jess before the duo headed off to the podium to see Dan accept his prize for a well-deserved third place overall.

Although my BMC team came into this race with the goal of taking a third Paris-Nice win for Richie, we got hammered early in the week and lost too much time.

After that, our aims changed and a stage win became the priority.

We got that on Saturday, so at least we haven't gone home empty-handed.

Henao reigns for Sky

Team Sky won Paris-Nice for the fifth time in six attempts as Colombian Sergio Henao won by two seconds after clawing back time in the final descent after repeated attacks from Spain's Alberto Contador.

Dan Martin secured an impressive third place after crossing the line alongside Henao, but the Trek-Segafredo rider's audacious attacks saw the Spaniard leapfrog the Irish rider. Contador, who was runner-up 12 months ago, finished the final stage second behind Martin's QuickStep team-mate David de la Cruz but his 21 second advantage on the day - added to eight bonus second - was just two seconds too short of Henao's time.

Irish Independent

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