Monday 25 September 2017

'Today the team and I failed Richie and we lost the race'

Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang celebrates his Criterium du Dauphine victory. Photo: Getty Images
Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang celebrates his Criterium du Dauphine victory. Photo: Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Saturday, June 10, Stage 7: Aoste to Alpe d'Huez (167.5km)

With our team leader Richie Porte in yellow this morning, my BMC team had no interest in getting somebody into the day's early breakaway.

Instead, our aim was to make sure nobody dangerous got into the move before trying to maintain Richie's overall lead on the six climbs that led us to a summit finish at Alpe d'Huez.

My job was to take care of Richie but we were both in a bit of trouble when we went the long way around a roundabout coming into the first climb after 28km, and ended up last and second-last wheel in the peloton and with the attacks coming thick and fast on the climb, I had to ride pretty flat out to get him back to the front.

When the break went clear over the top, Sky came to the front and helped us set the pace but there were a few counter-attacks until we came to the second category Col du Cucheron after 40km.

With the gap at two and half minutes, Danilo Wyss and Kilian Frankiny spent the next 90km on the front, peeling off as we came into Bourg d'Oisons, where Brent Bookwalter took us over the third category Cote de Garcin around four minutes behind the break.

At the top, we had a soigneur ready to hand us bottles but the pace was so high that we caught him off guard and he dropped the first one so none of us got any.

With his job done for the day Danilo was slipping out the back of the group but still dropped back to the team car, grabbed a few bottles, made a kamikaze 2km descent to get back to the front and gave us a bottle each before we hit the hardest climb of the day, the hors category Col de Sarenne, where we had another soigneur waiting with 25km to go.

Handing out bottles is a tricky business. Usually, four or five bottles are held across your chest with one arm while the other hand plucks them out and tries to hand them to a rider moving at speed.

Sometimes you can move your arm fast enough to hand them up, but often you see 'swannies' running backwards to make the hand-up.

Today, our second swanny tried to run backwards but only got two bottles out before tripping up and falling backwards, splitting his head open in the process.

As we climbed again, Amael Moinard took over and set a good tempo, whittling the peloton down to about 40 riders, before Alessandro De Marchi upped the pace around 5km later. Although I'd been sitting on Richie's wheel and waiting my turn to ride, I wasn't feeling comfortable at all so when Romain Bardet of Ag2r attacked and Ben Hermans accelerated after him, I began drifting down the group and within seconds I was out the back door.

I made my way to the top alone and was caught by a little group 5km from the finish, eventually crossing the line 16 minutes behind stage winner Pete Kennaugh of Sky.

Richie had a very good ride on the final climb and managed to build his advantage to a minute and two seconds over his nearest rival and defending champion Chris Froome.

With one day to go, team morale is high at the moment but for me today wasn't great. I'd be really pissed off if the Dauphine finished now because I felt useless today.

It's one thing being able to give orders on the radio, controlling the breakaway, telling the guys what to do and all that, but I felt like I didn't play my part on the final climb and was pretty pissed off on the bus afterwards - especially since Richie and I had talked about the penultimate climb this morning.

"Nico, it's really important for you to stay with me until the top," he'd said, "because I don't want to be caught out on the plateau before the descent."

"Yeah, yeah, don't worry," I had answered. "I'll be there."

But I wasn't there.

The first thing I did when I got changed was send a quick message to him at the podium saying I was sorry and that hopefully my legs will be better tomorrow.

Sunday, June 11, Stage 8: Albertville to Plateau de Solaison (115km)

With two first cats, a second cat and a finish atop the hors category Plateau de Solaison ahead of us, we knew today was going to be the hardest stage of this Dauphine.

The short 115km distance only encouraged long-range attacks, so everybody warmed up on home trainers before the start.

With 1min 2sec over second-placed Froome, our plan was to make sure Richie wasn't isolated on the first three climbs so that he could finish it off on the last one.

Our plan went out the window though when after controlling the early break and letting 20 riders or so up the road, the favourites started attacking at the bottom of the Col du Saisies - with 100km still to go.

Wanting to close the gaps for Richie, I got a bit hasty and jumped after them but Alejandro Valverde was on my wheel and I just acted as a launch pad for the Spaniard, who immediately counter-attacked.

After that, the whole race went bananas.

With my team-mates isolated behind, I put myself in the red and completely blew my lights, going out the back door and leaving Richie alone in a group of 35 riders, containing all of his nearest rivals.

At the summit, after 30km, four of our guys were chasing half a minute back in the next group but the other teams saw Richie had no team-mates up front so they rode as hard as they could to keep it that way, while I was having a nightmare of a day in the back.

I was alone with Christian Knees of Sky for a long while before I eventually caught Amael and Alessandro on the way up the Grand Colombiere after 80km.

At the summit we got caught by the grupetto, who absolutely scorched down the descent to try and stay inside the time cut, arriving at the bottom of the last climb eight minutes behind the leaders.

Mentally, I was struggling on the way to the summit, disappointed about having let Richie down.

Yesterday I put it down to hunger flat, but today I'm not sure what happened. Maybe it's because I've been working really hard to get my weight down ahead of the Tour and being on such a tight diet has caught up with me.

Having been attacked by everyone, Richie rode the last 30km solo but hauled everyone he needed to back, bar stage winner Jakob Fuglsang, with the 10-second time bonus for winning the stage enough to see the Dane win the race by the same amount.

Today I failed Richie and I'm obviously disappointed.

The team weren't able to help him as much as we should have and we paid for it by losing the race.

For three of the past four years the winner of the Dauphine has gone on to win the Tour de France.

But I don't read much into that.

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