Nicolas Roche: 'It was a bit dodgy going down a 25km descent with no back brake'
Saturday March 9, Stage 6: Manosque - Nice 220km
For the non-time trial specialists and those not in contention for a high overall placing, today was a last chance to grab a stage win before tomorrow's final time trial stage up Col d'Eze.
The favourites were all hoping a little group of riders way down the overall classification would go up the road and we wouldn't have to chase them all day, but when Frenchman Arnold Jeannesson sneaked into the 11-man breakaway group, we knew it was going to be a hard day.
As Jeannesson was only a minute and 49 seconds down on race leader Richie Porte, the Sky team took control at the front of the peloton. When Jeannesson's group gained over three minutes, making him virtual race leader on the road, Sky pushed the pace up a little bit more and pretty much kept it up even after we caught the escapees.
With the breakaways caught 40km from the line and BMC and Sky driving along on the front of the fragmented peloton on the final descent, around 25km from the finish in Nice, Italian Michele Scarponi of Lampre hit a huge hole in the road and there was a crack out of his back wheel.
Unfortunately, I was directly behind him and a split second later I heard the same noise coming from my carbon rear wheel.
While Scarponi stopped to replace his wheel on the descent, I was wary of stopping when the speed was over 70kph as I knew I'd have a tough time getting back onto the peloton. I slowed down a little bit and my Danish team-mate Nicki Sorensen came up to me.
"Look at my back wheel Nicki. Do you think it's okay to keep riding on it?" I asked.
"It's broken but I think you'll get away with it for a few minutes maybe," he said.
"Okay. It's too fast to stop here. I'll change it if it slows down."
I reached my arm around behind my seat post and opened the back brakes with my fingers to stop the wheel rubbing on the blocks and continued down the mountain.
It was a bit dodgy going down a 25km descent with no back brake in the wet, but I knew if I stopped I'd lose a lot of time, so I kept going.
We told Evgeni Petrov that I was waiting for the first opportunity to change the wheel if one came up. I wasn't even sure if it would slow down enough to be able to get back on, but Evgeni was stuck to my back wheel so that if I had to stop he'd be the first one there.
Going through the town at the bottom of the descent, my wheel went completely flat and the decision whether to stop or not was taken out of my hands. Evgeni called the team car up. The mechanic jumped out, changed my wheel, and Evgeni brought me up through the cavalcade of cars to the rear of the peloton in his slipstream.
As we weaved up through the team cars, Nicki sat waiting for us. He brought me into the tail end of the peloton, kept riding up the outside and after about 4km of chasing, I was back near the front again.
I soon realised that I couldn't use my biggest two gears, though, as my chain was jumping on the block, so when the final sprint started I just stayed in the middle. I actually moved up a place to 13th overall today as Scarponi, who had begun the day ninth overall, never regained contact after his wheel change, losing over eight minutes.
Sunday March 10, Stage 7: Nice - Col d'Eze 9.6km Mountain Time Trial
My goal today was to finish the mountain time trial up Col d'Eze in around 20 minutes and 30 seconds, but it took me about a minute longer.
I felt pretty decent in the warm-up but out on the road it soon became apparent that I wasn't on for a good time. Having blasted out of the start ramp last year, only to blow up 3km from the top, I started off at a pretty good rate but not too hard.
I got into my position and was trying not to push too big a gear, keep the pace up out of the saddle and control my heart rate so that it wouldn't go through the roof.
I felt like I was pushing hard but I didn't want to go into the red so I glanced at my heart rate every so often to make sure it didn't go way over my threshold of 180bpm.
Climbing at around 170bpm or 175bpm, my heart rate was in or around where it should be but my legs just weren't able to push the gears. Going through the intermediate time check I realised I was already about 50 seconds down on the fastest time.
Still, I wasn't too worried because the first part of the climb is the hardest and I figured I would only lose a handful more seconds for the second half.
As the climb went on, though, I began to fade and completely blew in the last 3km again. This year it wasn't because I went too hard at the start.
Sometimes there are just no excuses or reasons for doing a bad time and I finished 51st on the stage, two minutes and 14 seconds behind race leader and stage winner Porte.
Last week I was thinking I could finish in the top five overall at this Paris-Nice, so to not even get into the top 10, finishing 16th overall, is a big disappointment.
My drop down the GC didn't come from any tactical mistakes either. In fact I feel much better, much sharper than I've been the last two years. I just didn't have the legs on the Montagne de Lure on Friday and I didn't have them today on Col d'Eze.
I'm disappointed but I have the Tour of Catalunya to look forward to next week where, once again, I'll be aiming for a top 10 overall.
Hopefully, this time I'll succeed.