Nicolas Roche: 'I got away with it for nearly two weeks and then the Tour called my bluff'
Published 25/07/2011 | 05:00
While I conked out as soon as my head hit the pillow last night, my room-mate Max had trouble sleeping. It wasn't the climb to Alpe d'Huez or the thoughts of today's time trial that kept him awake, though. It was my coughing.
After a fitful night's sleep, another bout of coughing woke us both at 6.0 and, as we couldn't go back to sleep, we groggily headed down for breakfast.
We had a three-hour drive to the time trial course where I spent an hour on the bike to loosen up.
I didn't ride the course, as I had raced the exact same route in the Criterium Dauphine a couple of weeks before the Tour. Instead, I found a quiet road and just warmed up there instead of riding the rollers.
The time trial starts in order of the general classification so we had some guys starting at 11.0 and others at 3.0. While we sat on the bus for two hours waiting for our turn in the start house, Jean-Christophe Peraud, Hubert Dupont and I were getting hungry so I decided to cook a bit of pasta for us.
As we had to cook it on the camping stove, it took 20 minutes instead of five or six, and in the end Hubert decided he didn't want any. We didn't have olive oil or anything on the bus, so we just ate it plain.
I did half an hour on the rollers to open up the lungs and get the legs ready before riding into the start house and beginning my time trial.
I'd like to say that, with nothing to be gained by riding flat out, I took my time on the stage, but that would be a lie. I rode it pretty hard, hoping to stay within four minutes of the winner. I wasn't expecting to lose six and a half.
I knew within two minutes of rolling down the ramp that I had nothing in my legs. On the first straight in the Dauphine, I was doing 55kph; today I was lucky to reach 48kph, so I knew I wasn't going to do anything today.
Sometimes you have a bad patch and a good patch, but today, all I had was one long bad patch. I'm at the stage now that I can't even go full gas because I just don't have the power any more. I was just empty and the whole thing was a struggle.
This morning, I was actually pretty motivated about this time trial so I was a bit disappointed with my ride. But once again, if I'm honest, I was pretty empty on the home trainer before the start.
After hanging around the Tour village and the start area for most of the day, everybody was hungry for something different afterwards.
I asked the team doctor if it would be okay to get one of the soigneurs to buy a couple of pizzas so that we could have a slice or two on the bus together after the stage.
He agreed, so I asked two of the soigneurs to go get them for us. But they were too scared they'd get in trouble and refused until the doctor came over and told them it was okay.
We bought one ham pizza and one tuna because Blel Kadri is a Muslim and can't eat ham. We had a couple of slices each on the bus and everybody was happy.
When we got to the hotel, Jean-Christophe, who did a great time trial to finish sixth on the stage and keep his 10th place overall, bought a round of beer for everyone and we had a 10-minute chat before dinner at 8.0.
After breakfast we left the hotel this morning for a 40-minute bus transfer to the airport.
Blel did his best to entertain us and the Euskaltel team, who were travelling with us, with a game of 'name that song' on the bus stereo, but after about 10 minutes everybody got fed up and did their own thing.
We hopped on a plane with the rest of the riders for a 600km flight to Paris-Orly. I spent the 45-minute trip down the back reading my book alongside Max Bouet, while the top guys were giving interviews and having their photos taken in business class.
On exiting the plane, we were all given a lunch box containing a banana, two sandwiches, an apple and a bottle of water before the short trip to the start on the team bus.
The stage itself took a while to get going, with the usual photo calls and champagne drinking in the early kilometres, but it really took off when we hit the Champs Elysees.
As usual, everybody had something to race for. Mark Cavendish needed a few more points to be sure of his green jersey, while for the rest of the peloton this was a last chance for a stage win.
Inevitably, though, Cav took another sprint victory while for me, it was the end of a long, hard Tour and I just rode across the line in the middle of the bunch to finish 26th overall.
After 3,500km of racing, I've worn out three pairs of shorts, three long jerseys, two sleeveless gilets and seven pairs of socks.
After the stage we all hopped onto the team bus for a quick shower before donning a brand new set of kit that we were given yesterday for the team's parade along the Champs Elysees after the stage.
After our little lap of honour, my French team-mates returned to the bus, put on their best suits and headed for the Elysees Palace and a meeting with president Sarkozy while I got a lift with the mechanics and got suited and booted in the hotel for the team's big post-Tour dinner.
We always go to one of the best restaurants in Paris and can bring our wives and girlfriends. It's the sponsor's way of showing their appreciation for our efforts over the past three weeks.
We always see each other in tracksuits, so it's a bit of a novelty for us to be sitting around the table in suits. The dinner usually goes on until midnight and I'll probably have a few glasses of wine.
After that, we'll head to a nightclub for the only real team night out of the year. Some guys stay out all night, some guys come home at three in the morning. I'm not big into nightclubs, but I'll probably just go for an hour to be sociable.
My Ag2r La Mondiale team came into this Tour with the aim of taking a top 10 overall, finishing in the top three of the team classification and winning a stage. We have attained all of those except the stage win.
We finished third in the team classification, only beaten by 16 seconds for second place. Jean-Christophe was 10th overall.
I had hoped to be in that position but, realistically, looking at my preparation and disruptions before the Tour, I was being too optimistic.
The way this Tour panned out, if I had been in the same form as this time last year, I could have been really up there in contention, but I can't let myself think like that.
I have enough trouble thinking about stuff like if Hubert hadn't waited for me on Plateau de Beille we would have got second team by three minutes or so, but the guys have told me to forget about it and reminded me that I took some time back when I went in the break a couple of days.
On this Tour, the only good thing I had was my morale. I was down physically but hoping I was going to progress as the race went on.
But this is the biggest race in the world and there is no bluffing. I got away with it for nearly two weeks and then the Tour called my bluff on Plateau de Beille and I dropped down to 18th.
After that I put everything into the two Alpine stage to Pinerolo and Serre Chevalier. I gave it absolutely everything on those two days, but even that was not enough.
Now, I'll take Monday and Tuesday off, but that's it. On Wednesday, I'm due to ride a criterium in Oslo, followed by another one in Luxembourg on Thursday and the San Sebastian Classic in Spain at the weekend.
It sounds a bit far to go to Norway for an hour and a half of racing but it's either that or drive eight hours to a different race in the south of France and it's easier nowadays to get to Norway from Paris than it is to get from Dublin to Cork.
Thanks to all the Irish fans who came over and shouted, cheered, waved flags or just said hello. It means a lot to me to have that kind of support.
My next big stage race is the three- week Tour of Spain at the end of August.
Until then I'll continue to train right, eat properly and try and stay upright in the next few races.
Hopefully my form will come back. Things are going in the right direction. It's just a matter of giving my body a chance to recover now.