Nicolas Roche: 'It'll be very difficult to finish in the top 10 but not impossible'
Monday, July 16, Stage 15: Samatan -- Pau 158.5km
As we rolled out of Samatan this morning everyone was complaining about how tired they were after two weeks of racing and how hard the Tour was this year. A few kilometres later some of the same guys were attacking as soon as the flag was dropped for the end of the neutralised section.
Seconds later, we were scorching along. We averaged around 48kph for the first 65km today as dozens of riders jumped off the front of the peloton, only to be brought back by Team Sky and be replaced by more attackers.
Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen, who had been trying to monitor things for his team leader and yellow jersey holder Bradley Wiggins, threw his hands in the air at one point in disbelief at the continuous raft of attacks.
We knew before the start that today's stage would go one of two ways. Either a breakaway group would go clear and stay away until the end, with the peloton having a bit of an easy day, or they would be allowed dangle a few minutes up the road for most of the stage until the sprinters' teams reeled them in and set up a bunch sprint finish.
As usual, my team-mates tried to get into the early break but, despite having a rider in almost every move, we missed the one that eventually got away -- but as it's the first one we've missed on this Tour we can't complain.
As five riders pulled out a two-minute advantage up the road, Dane Niki Sorensen found himself hanging 25 seconds off the back of the break for a few kilometres but, even though he is a very strong time triallist, he didn't have the power to catch five guys riding in harmony into the wind.
In most circumstances, with a good lead over the peloton, the leaders would ease up and let Sorensen on, knowing they had another strong rider in the group to fend off the chasers over the remaining 90km or so.
But for some reason they just kept riding and Sorensen was left in no man's land, until his Saxo Bank team forced the breakaway's hand. Although the rest of the peloton had eased up and allowed the break their head, Saxo Bank suddenly went to the front and started chasing full gas.
The message was clear: let Sorensen into the break or we'll bring the whole lot of you back. The five leaders soon sat up and once Sorensen made contact, Saxo Bank eased off and the chase was over.
At first, I thought the six escapees would be left hanging up the road at three minutes by Sky and then be brought back by the sprinters.
But the best-placed man in the break was over an hour down on the overall classification so Sky had no worries about somebody taking Wiggins' yellow jersey and the gap went out to seven minutes.
Then, Lotto went to the front and rode flat out for a bit to cut their advantage by two minutes before giving up the ghost and, in the end, the breakaways gained almost 12 minutes by the finish.
As the pace slowed in the bunch behind, we entered the feed zone and I grabbed my 'meals on wheels' for the day. Lunch is grabbed in a bag from a team soigneur standing at the side of the road as we fly past at 40kph.
Our musettes usually contain two bottles, one filled with energy drink and one with water and syrup, a mini can of Coke, a couple of ZipVit energy bars and gels and today I even had a mini chicken roll.
As it wasn't so hectic today, I drank seven bottles in the three hours and 50 minutes it took us to cover the 159km stage. But on a mountain stage like the one to La Toussuire the other day I drank around 15 bottles, ate seven or eight gels, five or six bars plus a banana.
As we rolled along refuelling, I had a bit of a chat with my cousin Dan Martin from the Garmin Sharp team. He's finally feeling a bit better after his chest infection and tried to make it into the breakaway himself this morning.
He said he was glad he's coming around again now as he's really looking forward to riding the Olympic road race on the Irish team with myself and David McCann a week after the Tour.
For the last 10km, I was worried about a split in the peloton and the possibility of losing time due to tired riders in front of you letting a wheel go, but nothing happened and I crossed the line in 26th place to hold onto my 13th overall.
With our second rest day tomorrow, the hotel today is only 5km from the finish, which is great. We had an hour and a half drive to the hotel last night and another hour to the start this morning and you can get fed up of all the transfers after the stages.
It'll be nice to stay in the same hotel for two nights in a row.
Our accommodation has been pretty mixed as usual, with some good hotels thrown in the odd day to make up for the nights spent in two star Campaniles at the side of the motorway, with your team-mate's bed literally an arm's reach away and just enough space in the room to open two suitcases.
Unlike some of the big money squads, we don't have our own team chef on the race but the Tour organisation have provided Italian cooks for the other teams this year and they take over the hotel kitchens.
We usually have beef, chicken or fish, and pasta for dinner. The pasta has been great on this Tour and the food has been much better than in recent years. Pasta is a simple thing to make but a lot of people get it wrong and if you're eating it every day on a race, you soon become a bit of a connoisseur.
I'm still about two minutes off my goal of a top-10 spot overall. With guys like Chris Horner of Radioshack right behind me, ready to pounce, and the guys ahead of me looking strong, it will be an extremely difficult task to finish in the top 10 in Paris in six days time, but not impossible.