Monday 21 August 2017

Tour de France diary: 'The problem with chasing stage wins is that you have to follow every break'

Wednesday, July 12, Stage 11: Eymet to Pau (203.5km)

Romain Bardet hit the deck along with most of his Ag2r La Mondiale team-mates. Photo: Reuters/Benoit Tessier
Romain Bardet hit the deck along with most of his Ag2r La Mondiale team-mates. Photo: Reuters/Benoit Tessier

Nicolas Roche

On the one-hour transfer to the start this morning, I got a text from my dad to tell me to hang around the bus for a while when we arrived as my Nana Roche had flown over from Dublin and was coming to visit me.

After the team meeting, one of the mechanics called me down to tell me that she was waiting outside and I got a big hug and had a quick chat with her before she went over to the Quickstep bus to visit her other grandson Dan.

When three challengers, Maciej Bodnar of Bora Hansgrohe, Fredrik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Marco Marcato (UAE Team Emirates) jumped up the road after just a few metres this morning, the yellow jersey of Chris Froome was first to stop for a pee, which encouraged others to do the same and ignore the three escapees for a few minutes.

With Marcel Kittel sensing another sprint finish victory, his Quickstep team put a man on the front and soon a couple of other teams helped them keep the gap to around two-and-a-half minutes.

If yesterday was the most enjoyable day on the Tour, today was one of the worst and the day seemed to drag on forever. I rode near the front for a while but the strong three-quarter headwind blowing over our shoulders made things very aggressive and nervy in the bunch and with no team leader to protect any more there was no point in me being up there in the middle of that.

As usual, the combination of flat roads, gusting winds and nervous riders produced a few crashes today and as I spent most of the day riding in the back half of the peloton, I was caught up behind all of them, although I'd plenty of time to brake and ride around each one.

In the feed zone, after 106km, French hope Romain Bardet - who is currently third overall, just 51 seconds behind race leader Froome - hit the deck along with most of his Ag2r La Mondiale team-mates.

Fifth-placed Jakob Fuglsang also went down but they both remounted, unlike Fuglsang's team-mate Dario Cataldo who had to abandon with a suspected broken wrist.

The feed zone is always a dodgy place with guys trying to grab feed bags and dropping stuff in the middle of the road but, again, I was able to stop, ride around the fallers and continue on.

The next crash came on a drag with 60km to go where Arthur Vichot from FDJ was one of those who bounced off the road.

The road was blocked with bikes and riders so it took a while to close the gap to the peloton afterwards but there was no real panic.

It's amazing how sometimes we can all be riding within centimetres of each other but only one or two guys fall, which is exactly what happened when Alberto Contador seemed to get tangled up with his team-mate Michael Gogl 30km later; both of them fell on one side of the road, leaving plenty of space for everyone to get past.

With 23km to go former Polish time trial champion Bodnar attacked his fellow escapees and used his skills to hold a gap on us.

The last 20km were unbelievably fast but he gave it a right go until, after being out front for over 200km, the sprinters cruelly caught him in the last 200 metres and Kittel took his fifth stage win,

The German looks uncatchable in the green jersey competition now.

After a quick shower on the team bus, I had TV interviews with both British Eurosport and French Eurosport afterwards before riding the one kilometre to our new hotel afterwards.

This Tour has been strange so far this year.

So many long flat stages like today mean a lot of guys are using them as 'mobile rest days' and are only really racing four days a week, so I'm expecting plenty of attacks tomorrow when we hit the mountains again.

The fact that the first 50km tomorrow are flat could mean a long fight to get a breakaway established. Then again, it could go from the gun or it might even take the second-category Col des Ares after 100km to split the race up.

There will definitely be a big breakaway tomorrow but the problem is nobody knows whether it will stay away to the finish.

At 214km, with five tough climbs leading to a mountain-top finish, if you go up the road tomorrow and spend the day out front only to be caught near the end, then you're going to pay for it the next day.

That's the problem with chasing stage wins, you have to follow every break, not knowing which one will stick.

If the break is caught, Italian champion Fabio Aru could win tomorrow if he shows the same form as he did on Planche des Belles Filles last week but I can't see Chris Froome losing his yellow jersey at all this week.

Instead, I think the battle will be between the guys just behind them for the other two podium spots.

Tour de France, live,

TG4 1.10pm/Eurosport 9.45am

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