Nicolas Roche: 'After the line they traded slaps like a couple of aul ones'
Paris - Nice Diary: Stage 2 - Monday, March 7 Montfort L'Amaury to Amilly - 199km
I had a good 10 hours' sleep last night but still woke up this morning with a sore back and neck. The root cause of my new affliction was my decision to wear a cap underneath my helmet on the opening stage.
With the peak down over my eyes I had to crane my neck a little bit more than usual and my slightly higher position on the bars meant that my neck muscles were killing me this morning. Today was really stressful.
Once again the wind was strong and every time we went around a corner the wind changed direction and the whole peloton was on tenterhooks expecting attacks. Unlike rally drivers, we go into every corner blind and don't know what to expect around the other side. Sometimes we can overshoot a sharp bend or take one too wide and, again, there were crashes all day long.
Thankfully my legs felt a lot better than yesterday and I had no trouble staying towards the front and out of trouble. My Ag2r La Mondiale team-mate Maxime Bouet attacked from the gun today and went clear with Yoann Ofredo of Francaise De Jeux and Tony Gallopin of Cofidis. They built up a good lead but after 66km, Ofredo decided he'd had enough and returned to the shelter of the peloton.
Maxime and Gallopin continued and built up a lead of over six minutes by the time we reached the feed zone after 90km. Their advantage came down in the latter half of the stage, though, and with 40km to go they held just 50 seconds over the peloton.
One kilometre later it was a case of 'train stops play' for the leaders as a railroad level crossing barrier came down in front of them and they were forced to stop. As they waited for the train, the rest of us soon pulled up behind them at the barriers.
In a situation like that, the rules are that the leaders are allowed start again when the train passes while the peloton is held back until the breakaways build up the advantage they'd held before the barriers went down. That's all well and good in theory but once the leaders set off again there was pandemonium behind them. Although the commissaires, or race referees, had stopped their cars ahead of the bunch they didn't block off the entire road and they were soon swamped by riders.
A lot of riders seized their chance to edge up the outside of the peloton and move towards the front, even if that meant ignoring the stopped cars. As soon as the barriers rose, it was like a farmer opening a gate and a herd of sheep running loose. There was no need for the panic that ensued. It wasn't as if the finish line was only around the corner. We still had 40km to go and there should have been a bit more respect shown for race officials.
You can imagine the pandemonium when the commissaires tried to drive through the middle of the peloton. Nobody wanted to leave their spot as they had been fighting all day for it. As the cars finally came through the bunch there was another fight going on to tailgate their back bumper.
Riders were stuck to the rear of the car, knowing that as the cars carved their way through the bunch, they would have an easy ride to the front in their slipstream. Nine kilometres later, Maxime and his breakaway partner were reeled in and the stage was set for a bunch sprint finish.
My team-mate Jean Christophe Peraud broke a spoke in his front wheel today. Although he is our team leader for this race and is four or five years older than me, it's only his second year as a professional. When he stopped, he didn't say anything to anybody, just pulled in at the road side.
None of us knew there was anything wrong with him, not even the team car. I noticed him stopping and asked him what was wrong. I radioed back to the team car and then radioed two of the guys to stop with him and help him back up to the peloton. Did he think he would fix the bike himself?
Sebastian Minard kept me out of the wind in the final 10 kilometres or so while our sprinter Anthony Ravard battled for position. With 3.5km to go, he put his hand up and as I was sitting beside him I rode up and asked what was wrong. His chain had started to spin on his block and he thought he'd need a change of wheel but it came right again in a few seconds.
We have nicknamed Ravard 'the pitbull' at Ag2r because he's small and aggressive and never gives up. He's never violent but in the past two days he's had a couple of scraps. On the opening stage he had a bit of a bump off Jeremy Hunt with 15km to go and wanted to start a fight until I let a shout at him to concentrate on what he was doing. He also had a bit of an argument with one of the French guys on the Bretagne Schuller team. Today in the sprint the same guy nailed him to the barrier in the last 200m and after the line they traded slaps like a couple of aul ones.
Maxime was p****d off after the stage. He got caught up in the second half of the bunch when it split with about eight kilometres to go and lost a minute on the stage. If he had stayed with us, he would be ninth overall now. He was also p****d off that Brice Feillu of Vaconsoleil had taken time out of him. Feillu goes out with Maxime's sister and we constantly slag him that he's not even the best rider in his family, which probably doesn't help.
I'm feeling better every day. I'm not sure how my legs will fare in the mountains but with a big climb on Tuesday, I won't be long finding out.
Paris-Nice Stage 3,
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