Saturday 3 December 2016

Nicolas Roche: 'He was catapulted onto a barbed wire fence in the crash'

Nicolas Roche

Published 11/07/2011 | 05:00

The plan for my Ag2r La Mondiale team today was to try and get Christophe Riblon, Maxime Bouet or Blel Kadri in the break and hopefully they could survive to the finish and have a chance of winning the stage.

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Christophe is one of those riders who, when he wants to get into the break, usually gets into it. Last year, he made it into the race-winning move on stage 14 and took his first ever Tour de France stage victory at Ax 3 Domaines. Today he instigated a nine-man move after just eight kilometres and by the time they reached the biggest climb of the day, the second-category climb of the Col de la Croix Saint Robert, with 30km to go, were still a couple of minutes clear.

In the peloton behind, there were a lot of attacks near the top and everybody was looking at each other to see who would react first. Eventually, Alexandre Vinokourov of Astana jumped clear and that made the BMC team of second-placed Cadel Evans ride for the final kilometre of the climb.

Going through the village of Besse, six kilometres from the uphill finish, Christophe was still ahead with Spaniard Rui Costa, American Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) and Frenchman Cyril Gautier (Europcar), while Vinokourov and Juan Antonio Flecha of Team Sky had joined him in the lead group.

Mistake

The climb to the finish was all-action. I wasn't the most comfortable but at least I hung on. I stayed in the top 20 for as long as I could. I was hoping to stay there without having to fight too much and rode the climb on the little chainring at the front. With about 600m to go, a lot of guys moved up to the big ring but I stayed with the inner ring. It was probably a mistake, though, as I was out of breath as I tried to spin my legs to keep up with the rest of the group.

Usually, I do the opposite and have to grind a big gear while watching the others spin away from me. I finished 19th, three places behind the yellow jersey to move up to 14th overall.

Evans had begun the day just a second behind race leader Thor Hushovd and along with most of the peloton probably expected he'd be in yellow at the finish as the mountainous profile didn't exactly suit the big Norwegian sprinter. However, Thor put in a great display to finish 16th and keep yellow.

I have a lot of respect for Thor. He's one of the guys in the peloton that I'm a fan of. I'd go so far as to say that he's one of my idols in the peloton. It was an amazing ride and he showed great character to hang in on the final climb and keep his yellow jersey for another day.

Thor was my boss when we rode together at Credit Agricole a few years ago. I spent my first Giro in 2007 riding for him, helping to get him in position for the sprints and I learned a lot from him. In the bunch, Thor is one of the good guys and is well respected. He's got a neat style of riding and moves through the peloton without aggression and is always very polite.

Christophe was only caught by the peloton with about 300m to go. Like me, Christophe likes to give out a bit. If you think I'm grumpy, you should see Christophe when he's tired.

After today's stage he was sitting in the back of the bus with Jean-Christophe and Blel. Even though the rest of us were miles away from him and couldn't hear what they were talking about, we knew by the low tone of his mumblings that Christophe was giving out about something. But that's his character and we love him for it.

My dad is working on this Tour in a public relations capacity for Skoda and although he has never been too far away all week, we haven't really had time to catch up. The other day he brought a few VIP guests onto my Ag2r La Mondiale team bus to show them around but we hadn't time to chat for long.

This morning he called over to my hotel at breakfast time and myself and my girlfriend Chiara, who has arrived along with some of the guys' wives for Monday's rest day, had a quick coffee and a chat with him. We didn't talk shop, though, and just spent the time shooting the breeze about nothing really.

With seven climbs on the agenda today, I wasn't too impressed to be greeted by yet more rain at the start. We've had six days out of eight in the wet now and it takes the pleasure out of the race.

You go through the whole early season in the cold rain so when you arrive at the Tour in July, you expect a little sunshine. Instead of 25 degrees and sunny though it's been 15 degrees and raining. I might as well be in Ireland.

A five-man breakaway group containing Luis Leon Sanchez, Juan Antonio Flecha, Sandy Casar, Thomas Voeckler and Johnny Hoogerland were almost four minutes up the road by the time we reached the first second-category climb of the day, the Col du pas de Payrol. With Voeckler threatening to move into yellow if the break finished more than a minute and a half clear, the climb was ridden at a pretty quick tempo with Hushovd's Garmin team setting the pace.

I was a bit further back than normal on the climb for two reasons: there was no real need to be in the top five or 10 going across the summit, and I was a bit tired. I stayed around the top 30 riders and while the pace wasn't hard enough to be dropped, it was just enough to deter attacks on the way up.

The descent was very dicey, with patches of wet road on some of the corners. I was around 30th man in the line on the way down and going around one of the left-hand bends there were bodies and bikes all over the place.

As Andreas Kloden of Radioshack limped out of the ditch to my right, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, who was fifth last year, was lying prone in the middle of the road. I had to pull my foot out of the pedal and go up on the grass to get around him.

The bunch slowed down as I heard over the radio that Vinokourov had gone over the barriers into a forest. I later found out that he broke his pelvis and his femur. The crash also claimed Dave Zabriskie of Garmin with a broken wrist, and lots of riders stopped to assist their various leaders while others looked down the slope into the woods in search of their team-mates.

At the foot of the next climb of the Col du Perthus, race leader Hushovd and points competition leader Philippe Gilbert had a chat at the front of the bunch and, out of that, the climb was ridden a slower pace in order to allow the riders involved in the chaos behind regain contact. This meant, however, that the breakaway's lead grew to seven minutes by the time we got to the top and Hushovd would lose the race lead by the end of the stage.

Up front, the break was nearly wiped out altogether when an official car tried to pass them but hit Flecha, who brought down new King of the Mountains Hoogerland. I didn't find out what happened until afterwards but couldn't help notice the blood streaming down his leg as we caught him a few kilometres later. He had been catapulted onto a barbed wire fence in the crash.

Chase

With about 12km to go, and the gap still around four minutes, Hushovd's Garmin team gave up the chase and the other three stayed away to the finish where Sanchez won the stage and Voeckler took yellow.

I had a really hard time at the bottom of the finishing climb today but then slowly found my rhythm. The group began to split in the final metres, though, and as I was right at the back, I tried to move up the inside but Levi Leipheimer didn't see me and closed the gap on the last bend.

He took the short way around the corner and I had to go around him and lost the wheel in front of me. As on the stage to Mur de Bretagne, I was only a couple of lengths behind the wheel in front, but as the time is taken from the front of the group, I lost eight seconds, finishing 17th on the stage. But I moved up to 13th overall.

I'm disappointed to have thrown away another eight seconds as I definitely had the legs to stay with the front part.

On the other hand, I'm happy that my condition is improving and even though I crashed on Stage 1, I've gotten through the first week without too much trouble. I lost 19 seconds the other day and eight seconds today. Those 27 seconds won't mean much if I lose 20 minutes next week but in the Vuelta last year there was only a minute between six of us in the last few days so it could be important.

I'm looking forward to the rest day now and chilling out with Chiara for a few hours.

Irish Independent

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