Nicolas Roche: ‘Today I couldn’t suffer. My legs just gave in to the pain’
Paris-Nice Diary: Thursday, March 10, Stage 5, Saint-symphorien-sur-coise to Vernoux-en-vivarais - 193km
With another seven mountains, including two first-category climbs, to be tackled, today was billed as the hardest stage of this year’s Paris-Nice. And rightly so.
It was important for our team to try and have a man in the break today. It wouldn’t look good if the break got to the finish again and we didn’t have someone in it.
Hubert Dupont was feeling good this morning but the break took over 50km of racing and two massive climbs to go clear. Hubert crossed the second mountain of the day in second place, 35 seconds behind lone attacker Lieuwe Wiestra of Vaconsoleil. Having pulled three others clear over the top, the five then merged at the front and built up a lead of four minutes.
But the main contenders were very vigilant today and Hubert’s group spent most of the day with only a minute and a half or so of a lead, before being reeled in with 33km to go.
After catching Hubert, five of the Francaise de Jeux team went to the front at the top of the penultimate climb and threw themselves down the other side. They went so fast on the narrow, twisting descent that four of them went clear in an eight-man move and one of them ended up in hospital with a broken collarbone.
This new escape group built up a lead of 40 seconds, but the Liquigas, Radioshack and Rabobank teams all went to the front and brought them back at the foot of the final mountain, the first-category Col du Muires.
There was a lot of attacking on the way up and it was pretty tough going. I’m not a rider who gets sore legs often. When I blow, it’s usually because I’m out of breath or I just can’t go any faster. When I’m in top form, I can be in pain on a climb but I can always dig that little bit deeper. The more you are trained, the more you can suffer.
Today, I couldn’t suffer. Instead of asking for more, my legs gave in to the pain when the third Astana rider, Robert Kiserlovski, attacked two kilometres from the summit and I got dropped.
There was only 13km to go to the finish and I rode to the top alongside my former training partner Amael Moinard of BMC at a steady pace. Blel Kadri and a few others caught us on the way down and he rode with me to the finish.
Blel is always willing to help, so he went to the front of our group and set a good tempo. I came around him once to give him a hand. I was trying to show him that his team leader was still going alright, but my legs were screaming at him to slow down and I just sat in his slipstream for the last four kilometres.
Our six-strong group crossed the line two minutes and 50 seconds down on stage winner and new race leader Andreas Kloden of Radioshack and my hopes of repeating my top-10 placing of last year are well gone now.
After the line, I put my arm around Blel and told him that if he stayed focused in the next couple of years, he could be a top-class rider in the future.
Blel just turned to me and said: “Never mind the future Nico. Let’s think about this year. I’m here to give you a hand and we’re going to win a few races this year.”
Today was pretty tough. I wasn’t feeling terribly bad, but the level on this race is very high and there is a definite gap between me and the top guys. I’m trying not to be disappointed about my ride today, even though I did lose a fair bit of time. If I step back and look at everything realistically, my condition is not actually that bad considering the time I missed with my knee injury in the winter. If I was in top form and lost almost three minutes today, then I would be really p****d off.
Our overall hope, Jean Christophe Peraud, is still in contention. He finished in the second group today and is lying 15th overall, just 29 seconds behind Kloden and one second off 10th place. He was a bit down on the bus after the stage, but I reminded him to stay focused; that he is a good time triallist, a former French champion, and Friday’s stage could see him leap forward again.
For me, the time trial is usually my downfall in major stage races. Friday is another chance to get my pre-race routine and time trial right. After Friday, my next time trial is not until June and after that it’s probably the Tour de France. Although I could just save my legs and ride it easy, it’s important to try and improve on my weakest point. The only way is up.