Wednesday 24 May 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'I couldn't go another minute on the bike'

Saturday, March 12 – Stage 7: Brignoles – Biot 215KM

Nicolas Roche

There are 25km left on today's stage.

After a long escape, the two breakaways, Eric Berthou and Karsten Kroon, are reeled in. There is a slight uphill approaching. It's a perfect opportunity for a counter-attack, but I can't do anything. Not from here anyway. I'm lying in the team bus at the finish, watching on TV. I'm already showered and changed into my Ag2r La Mondiale team issue tracksuit. My Paris-Nice is over.

When I got up this morning there was no indication I would be in this position -- sprawled out on the bus, yawning as the rain lashes off the windows. I had been really motivated. Today's stage finishes in Biot, just over a kilometre from my mum's apartment. I could walk to it from here. If it wasn't raining. And if I wasn't knackered.

On each stage, we have two team cars supporting us. One of them drives ahead of the race and slots in behind the breakaway if any of our riders get into the move while the other follows the peloton all day.

This morning, for the first time this week, I put my rain bag into the breakaway car. If it started raining, I wanted easy access to my gloves, cape and other paraphernalia if things went according to plan and I got into the day's main move.

The stage started really fast and immediately I was jumping across to attacks and trying to get into the right move. I got up the road a few times, but we were brought back almost immediately each time. After a while, I started to struggle and drifted down the back of the bunch. Soon I was last wheel and felt like I had ridden 300km, instead of just 60km.

I was feeling terrible. My legs were empty, my head was light and even my arms were weak. Eventually, I just let the wheel in front of me go and had to chase for a bit. There was a group of eight or 10 riders behind me and I was with them for a while, but even then I was suffering.

I was dropped by the stragglers after about 80km. My manager, Julien Jurdie, stayed with me in the team car for a while. He was hoping that the group in front of me would slow down and eventually I'd get back on and I'd recover and be able to survive to the finish. But I couldn't see myself going another minute on the bike.

When he realised how bad I was, Julien stopped the car and I abandoned. There was no big scene. No commissaire stripping me of my race numbers, no TV crews in my face. I climbed off my bike, got into the car and put my head in my hands. There was no big sobbing session but a couple of tears of frustration betrayed me and sneakily rolled down my cheeks.

Having to abandon is really frustrating, especially after all the work I've put in after my knee injury in January. Today is the first stage race I've abandoned in about three years where I haven't been injured or crashed out and I'm trying to figure out what went wrong. I've known for the past three weeks that I wasn't going to win Paris-Nice, but two days ago I was thinking I was feeling much better and was looking forward to today's stage.

Maybe I came back and did too much too soon after my injury. I really paid attention to my diet when I was injured and started training hard straight away when I came back.

Sometimes you think it should pay off immediately, but it doesn't work like that. It would have been too easy to have had two weeks off the bike and then be able to come back and compete with the top guys in the world. If it was that easy, I'd take two weeks off every month.

I was probably expecting too much too soon. Today was back to reality.

Last year, when I tore my hamstring at the Tour of Romandie, I had three weeks off and then four weeks' training before I raced again.

This year I came back straight away. I didn't have the foundation done but I kept building and building anyway and eventually it all collapsed, leaving me with nothing but a massive headache and a DNF behind my name.

After I abandoned, the roads became treacherous as the rain lashed down and lots of riders crashed, so at least I avoided some of that. Martijn Maaskant broke seven ribs while Robert Kiserlovski ended up under a parked truck.

Sunday, March 13, Stage 8: Nice - Nice 124 km

Paris-Nice is nicknamed 'the race to the sun' but the weather has been terrible for the past two days. Last night I stayed with the team in the hotel and had dinner with them before leaving the race this morning.

I spoke to Jean Christophe Peraud and wished him the best of luck before I left. Peraud had a great ride today. He dropped one place, but sixth overall in Paris-Nice is a great achievement.

I could have gone home today but went to the finish afterwards and it was weird and frustrating being at the race and not racing. Looking back on yesterday's stage I probably didn't eat enough and got the hunger 'knock'.

The team doctor asked me what I had for breakfast and I told him I wasn't feeling hungry so I just had an omelette. He berated me and he's probably right. I've been very cautious about what I eat lately and maybe that's something to do with my bad ride yesterday too.

I have two days in my mum's in Antibes now. I'm going to stay completely off the bike there and then I'll do a few easy spins during the week.

Hopefully I will be a lot better for the Tour of Catalonia, which begins next Monday.

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