Sunday 25 June 2017

'We're going to have to find our way into the fight now'

Thursday March 9, Stage 5: Quincié-en-Beaujolais to Bourg-de-Péage (199km)

Andre Greipel celebrates as he crosses the line to win the fifth stage of Paris-Nice. Photo: Getty Images
Andre Greipel celebrates as he crosses the line to win the fifth stage of Paris-Nice. Photo: Getty Images

Nicolas Roche, Paris-Nice Diary

For the past few nights on this race, I've had a room to myself and up until today, thought I was special, until I realised this morning that we've all had rooms to ourselves up to this point.

Maybe that will change as the week goes on but it's been nice to be able to get up early in the morning without having to worry about waking a sleeping team-mate.

After a 50km transfer this morning, we got to the start with plenty of time to spare so I was able to spend a few minutes chatting to my dad before racing began.

He's been working on the race all week and although he only lives a few kilometres away from me, I've seen him more on this race than I have in the last three months at home.

Today two teams spent the first few kilometres trying to filter the early attacks; the race leader's Quickstep squad making sure nobody too close to Julian Alaphilippe's yellow jersey escaped their clutches and the FDJ team of French sprinter Arnaud Demare hauling back any group deemed big enough to upset the prospects of a sprint finish later on in the stage. After maybe 20 minutes of cat and mouse, both seemed happy enough to let a six-man group of lowly-placed riders jump clear.

As the peloton settled into an easier tempo, this sextet built up a maximum lead of eight minutes.

I spent maybe the first hour today riding alongside Frenchman Tony Gallopin, currently second overall.

As both my BMC and his Lotto Fix-All squad changed over to Vittoria tyres this year, we spent much of this time comparing notes on the little strip of rubber between us and the road.

When I began racing, the trend was to ride ultra-skinny 19mm or 21mm tyres pumped up to a pressure of 10bar. At BMC, we ride much wider 25mm tyres pumped to 7.2 bar while Lotto pump theirs to 8 bar. The trend now is for less pressure and wider tyres - with Lotto even going to try 28mm tyres for the classics.

After a while, though, a concerted chase from the head of the peloton took the wind out of our chat and the breakaway's chances of survival began to diminish.

A lot of the GC contenders were riding towards the back of the peloton again today and when two guys fell in the middle of the road with about 25km to go, their bikes spread all over the road and caused a split just ahead of us.

panic Although race leader Alaphilippe was caught out with us and the speed was pretty high, there was no real panic.

He had Philippe Gilbert and a couple of other team-mates alongside him, so they just went to the front and calmly closed the gap within a few kilometres.

Towards the finish, with the last of the escapees reeled in, Richie Porte and I moved up towards the front to get involved in the finale. We had no intention of mixing it with the top sprinters, but it's good to keep in touch with the jostling and bumping that goes on in the last 10km or so as we know we will be involved in future races.

The last 8km were mainly into a brick wall headwind and although we were well sheltered, the guys at the front were really suffering, so much so that when they pulled of the front they dropped back through the peloton like a stone before the sprint began.

Again Sam Bennett took another good result, 10th on the stage, while the overall classification remained unchanged.

After a lull in hostilities between the overall contenders the last two days, three days in the mountains will surely ignite that again.

I think a breakaway could stay clear tomorrow but there's sure to be a dogfight between the leaders too.

My BMC team-mates and I are going to have to find our way into that fight somehow if we don't want to go home empty-handed.

Irish Independent

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