Nicolas Roche: ‘I’ve been doing up to 1,000km a week for the past month’
Paris-Nice Diary: Stage 1 – Sunday, March 6 Houdan to Houdan – 145KM
Today felt more like a Belgian classic than the opening stage of Paris- Nice.
Most of the stage was held on narrow, twisting roads and with no hedges or ditches to give shelter from the wind, everybody was on edge.
Because there was no prologue time trial this year, and therefore no leader’s jersey on the start line this morning, everything was up for grabs from the off.
Most of us expected a bunch sprint finish today and we knew that whoever won that sprint was highly likely to don the first yellow jersey of Paris-Nice this year.
But with no team setting out to defend a yellow jersey this morning, there was always the chance that a breakaway would go clear and stay away until the finish, which meant there were plenty of early attacks.
After a hectic start, it was around 20km into the race before the two-man early break eventually went clear. Although they built up a lead of over eight minutes at one point, the strong winds meant that we would be seeing them again before the finish.
Whenever we entered a town or village during the stage, you had to have your wits about you to avoid the roundabouts, kerbs and various bits of street furniture that littered the course.
The streets were so narrow that guys were jumping up on kerbs and bunny hopping roundabouts just to move up five or six places in the bunch.
Although I saw a couple of my best friends and former team-mates – Amael Moinard and Geoffrey Lequatre for the first time this season – there was no time for talking during the stage. Concentrated on the task in hand, we could only manage a quick hello as we passed each other in the heaving peloton.
As usual there were a few crashes, two of which involved team-mates of mine. With 50km to go, Sebastian Minard’s chain jumped on a corner and his bike fishtailed, throwing him sideways onto the ground, while Peter Velits of HTC Highroad also fell. Sebastian is pretty cut up all along the right side of his leg. It wasn’t until after the stage that I noticed that Hubert Dupont was limping around the hotel. He told me later that he fell during the stage and a few guys rode into him.
It was a long and stressful day today and I just stayed in the wheels most of the time. When the two leaders were caught in the final 40km, three more attacked. German strongman Jens Voigt, French rider Jeremy Roy and Dutchman Thomas De Gendt jumped away and held just under a minute lead for a long time as the bunch splintered in the wind behind them.
Luckily, I was in a good position in the front part of the peloton and never got caught up in the splits but some of the lads had to chase two or three times to get back onto the front portion in the final 25km.
The plan for my Ag2r La Mondiale team today was to try and get our sprinter Anthony Ravard up for the sprint and keep Jean Christophe Peraud out of trouble as he’s our main GC man for the week. Ravard is in fine form, having recently won the season-opening Etoile de Besseges stage race in France. I was riding close to him coming towards the finish but he punctured with two kilometres to go.
UCI regulations mean that anyone who punctures or crashes within the final three kilometres doesn’t lose any time, so there was no need to stop with him. He would have to fight another day for his stage win. I didn’t think the three breakaways would survive to the finish but, fair play to them, we only caught the tail end of them on the line with De Gendt holding on for the win ahead of Roy. I was too far back in the final kilometre and didn’t sprint, crossing the line in 48th place.
My legs weren’t that great today. They felt a bit heavy, like I was in the middle of a stage race rather than just beginning one.
I think it could be as a result of training too hard after my knee injury in January. I’ve been back on the bike since February 6 and I put a bit of pressure on myself to get back to full fitness as quickly as possible. I’ve been doing between 800km and 1,000km per week for the past month, so maybe that’s why I’m feeling a bit tired.
They haven’t been terrible, just a bit sluggish and hopefully they’ll come around as the race goes on.
Our team hotel was right beside the finish today and is actually owned by the McElroy family from Meath and we had a good chat when the owners recognised my accent. Maybe I’ll get extra dessert tonight.