Nicolas Roche: 'I didn't notice Gilbert go clear, I thought s*** he's going to jump over me in the top 10'
As we had won the team prize on Thursday's 12th stage, this morning we had to go and collect our prize on the podium before the start. As it was a team prize, we all had to go onto the podium together but when it came to rounding everybody up, Jean-Christophe Peraud was not there.
After about 10 minutes of repeatedly calling him over the little team radio that we carry in our jersey pockets, our manager Vincent Lavenu was going crazy as there was still no sign of him.
The rest of us were getting a bit peeved too when, 15 minutes later, somebody found him in the Tour village having coffee with his wife. He was just about to get a good roasting from all of us when he explained his kid had been playing spies with his race radio and he hadn't heard Lavenu calling him in his earpiece.
On the start line, I had a chat with French rider Amael Moinard. I raced with Amael at Cofidis for a couple of seasons when I first turned pro and he's one of my best friends in the peloton. When we trained together in the summer in Nice it was often to the sound of crickets in the background.
Now, if we don't have time to chat during a race, myself, Amael and the other guys from the Cote d'Azur -- Tristan Valentin from Cofidis, Geoffrey Lequatre from Radioshack and Maxime Monfort from Leopard-Trek -- often make the sound of the crickets when we zip past each other in the bunch. A quick way of saying hello.
Although we've been staying in the same hotels for most of the Tour, today was the first time we've been able to have a chat since the Tour started. This year Amael signed for the Swiss-based BMC team of Aussie Cadel Evans, who is currently third overall. It's the first time he has ridden for a non-French team and he loves it.
As we rolled along, Amael began to talk about my tactics in the mountains. He was saying I'm often up the front on my own on the climbs and fighting out in the wind way too much; that I should have the guys around me more to shelter me.
I agreed, but reminded him we weren't Liquigas or one of these teams who have 10 guys capable of riding in the wind and the guys do the best job they can for me. Sitting out in the wind to the right of the group has been a habit of mine for a long time and maybe it's one I'll have to break myself.
Christophe and Hubert Dupont got caught up in a crash going around a corner after just 30km. I was right behind them but avoided it and they're okay. The plan for my Ag2r La Mondiale team today was to get someone in the break but that didn't happen. After a lot of attacks and a fast start, the break finally went clear around 60km into the stage. As we had nobody in it, the back-up plan of 'stick with Nico' was brought into action.
The break had four minutes at the foot of the big climb of the day, the Col d'Aubisque, and I was convinced that was as much as they would be allowed. But by the top, after 110km, they had eight minutes. Okay, we weren't flying up the climb as there were still about 60 of us left in the bunch, but it was still hard so I was surprised by that news. I rode the Aubisque in the top 25 or 30 guys with my new mountain bodyguard, Hubert, alongside me. It was very warm on the way up and I think a lot of guys were trying to recover from the very hard previous stage.
The sweat was rolling out of me in the clammy conditions and it was a relief to reach the mist and clouds of the summit. I was near the front on the descent, inside the top 15, but didn't notice Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert going clear on the way down. The first I heard of it was over the team radio in the last 20km or so. One or two of the Spanish Movistar team had by then moved up to give Thomas Voeckler's Europcar team a hand and I heard my directeur sportif say: "They are probably trying to bring back Gilbert so he won't gain any points on (Jose) Rojas for the green jersey." I thought: "S**t! Gilbert is in the front again. He's going to jump over me into the top 10 tonight."
I don't know whether Gilbert was riding for the GC or just going for the points towards the green jersey at the finish, but the way he is riding now he seems to be able to do everything and he's definitely going to be another direct rival for my top-10 place overall.
With Movistar and Leopard-Trek joining in the chase with Europcar , the last 30km were fast but they left it way too late and stage winner Thor Hushovd finished over seven and a half minutes clear, while Gilbert took back 49 seconds, enough to see him jump from 12th to ninth place overall.
The last five kilometres were narrow and twisty so I tried to stay near the front in case there was a split in the bunch. There was, but everybody else near me on GC was in the front portion too, so none of them lost time.
I feel fairly wrecked after today and tomorrow is extremely hard so hopefully I will be able to recover in time. Up until now, I've been rooming on my own but as Seb Minard is sick, he gets quarantined in the single room tonight and I'm rooming with Max Bouet.
Max used to go to bed pretty late but he has adapted to my earlier bed time and we get on fine. When I say earlier, the transfers this year have meant the days drag on. Last night we didn't finish dinner until 11.0 and it'll probably be the same tonight. It's hard to go to sleep with a belly full of pasta so bed times have been that bit later.
This weekend will be tough, especially the finish to Plateu de Beille on Saturday. Franck Schleck, Alberto Contador or Evans are favourites now but Ivan Basso looks strong too. For me, the plan is simple: follow the others for as long as I can and just hang on.
Tour de France,
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