Nicolas Roche: 'I barely made it over the finish line . . . I couldn't pedal another metre'
Friday March 8, Stage 5: Chateauneuf-du-Pape - La Montagne de Lure 176km
THIS morning at breakfast all the talk at the table was about the bad weather outside and whether it would clear up or not as we headed into the mountains.
Although there were six climbs on the cards today, everybody knew that the final 14km ascent to the finish at the summit of La Montagne de Lure was the one that would open a few gaps in the General Classification and possibly decide the outcome of this year's Paris-Nice.
With the final climb in mind, none of the favourites were too worried when an early breakaway group of four riders jumped clear in the rain on the second-category Col de Murs after 40km or so.
Although this group opened a lead of six minutes at one point, they were brought back within touching distance on the foothills of the final climb, and within the first 4km of climbing, only German veteran Jens Voigt hovered a minute ahead as Konstantin Siutsou upped the pace at the front for his Sky team leader and pre-race favourite Richie Porte.
With 9km to go, the breakaways reeled in and Siutsou's job done, he swung off the front just as Davide Malacarne of Cofidis launched the first attack.
Unperturbed, Sky's David Lopez took over from team-mate Siutsou and, with Porte safe in his slipstream, the relentless pace soon saw Malacarne's move, and subsequent attacks from Robert Gesink, Christophe Le Mevel and Michele Scarponi, come to nothing as we headed into the final 3km.
It was here my hopes of a good result on the stage ended. An attack by race leader Andrew Talansky and Porte dragged a little group clear and as soon as they jumped up the road, I realised they were stronger than I was.
As riders like Gesink and second overall Andriy Grivko went out the back door, I managed to claw my way back into the front group with a handful of riders when they stalled again with around 2km to go.
When they stalled, I didn't really attack. I basically tried to keep the pace that I had and just went by them. I was already on the limit at that stage but was hoping that they'd maybe look at each other for a minute and I could grab a couple of seconds' head start so that when they caught me, I might be able to keep the same rhythm to the finish and not lose any time.
Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe I should have taken a breather because when they rode up to me and Talansky attacked again on a hairpin bend, I was already suffering like a dog and just hadn't got the legs to respond.
There was a strong headwind to the top and when the front group stalled again, Peter Velits, who began the day in third place overall, got out the grappling hook and clawed his way back up to them with me in tow. But just as we made contact, Denis Menchov attacked and I blew up again which meant I had to do a lot of hard work to try to limit my losses.
I really suffered up the last 2km today but I have no excuse. I just didn't have the power. I was spinning the pedals but couldn't push a bigger gear. I knew I had to try to pick up the pace again as riders like Sylvain Chavanel and Andreas Kloden had been dropped and I could move up the overall. When they caught me and accelerated past in the last 300m, I tried to ride after them but had nothing left and crossed the line in 14th place.
I barely made it over the finish line before grabbing the crowd control barriers to stay upright. Wrecked, I couldn't pedal another metre. Velits was in the same boat and hanging onto the barrier for dear life in front of me.
Once again, it's been the stop-start attacking that saw me dropped today. Even with all the work I've put in over the winter, there's no magic cure. It's not a quick fix and I'll just have to keep working at it, keep training.
I'm really disappointed, even though I moved up a place to 14th overall, because I was really expecting a lot from this Paris-Nice and was hoping I could jump into the top 10 today.
It's not over yet, though. I'm only 13 seconds behind Velits in 10th and only 17 seconds off Tejay van Garderen in fifth overall and if I pull out a good ride on the mountain time trial up Col d'Eze on Sunday's final stage, anything is possible.
The goal of a top 10 overall is going to be difficult but it's still alive and I'm focused on that climb. I know Col d'Eze like the back of my hand. I lived in the area when my family moved to France when I was a teenager and I've done it so many times that hopefully it will be a good day and I'll be able to do a good time trial.
After the stage, I had to go to anti-doping control, get changed and then ride down the snow-laden climb in the cold to the team bus. I've been out of the shower a while now but haven't spoken to anyone yet. I'm still down the back of the bus brooding. It's probably the first time my new team-mates have seen me grumpy. They'll get used to it.
Live, Eurosport, 5.45