Roche: 'I thought my dad would be screaming into my earpiece'
While today's individual time trial was an important stage for the time trial specialists and the overall contenders in this year's Tour, for those of us who weren't concerned with winning the stage or challenging overall, the race against the clock was more about getting to the finish and getting another stage over.
Wednesday, July 10
Stage 11: Avranches to Mont-Saint-Michel (33km individual time trial)
Sprinter Mark Cavendish said yesterday that he just uses time trials as another rest day, riding within himself but staying within the time limit so that he can save energy for the sprint stages ahead.
As I have no real goals in this Tour, apart from trying to help my team leader Alberto Contador win the race outright, and am already half-an-hour down, it didn't really matter if I lost more time today. The original team plan was for me to ride the stage at a decent pace but within myself so that I could save energy to help Alberto in the coming days.
With this in mind, this morning I stayed in bed longer than usual before having a pretty light breakfast at about 9.30 and stayed in the hotel to rest as some of the guys did a 'recon' of the stage before lunch.
After lunch, I cycled the 8km down to the start, and boarded the team bus for a few minutes before starting my warm-up. Here, my Saxo-Tinkoff team boss Bjarne Riis asked me how I felt and I replied that I was feeling pretty good, on the flat anyway.
He asked me if I'd prefer to ride the time trial full gas rather than take it easy and I said I would as I need to improve my time-trialling.
I've been working a lot on it this year and have improved slightly each time, apart from Paris-Nice in March, where I was simply exhausted before I even got onto the start ramp and had no legs on the stage.
I had a decent time trial in the Tour of the Basque country and the Tour de Suisse but I'm still a long way off the top time-triallists.
We agreed that just to continue progressing, I need to work hard in the couple of time trials I get to ride during the year, rather than taking them easy and, while it would obviously take more out of me than if I took it easy, 40 minutes or so of hard riding wasn't going to kill me.
As the directeur sportifs were busy with other riders, I had my masseur Firmain driving behind me today and, for the first time ever in my career, my dad giving me instructions on the radio.
When Bjarne suggested it last night, I phoned him to ask if he would do it and he was delighted but joked that he wouldn't be able to sleep after the call.
I thought he might get overexcited and be screaming and shouting into my earpiece during the stage but was pleasantly surprised by how calm and straightforward his information was as he had already driven over the course as part of his work with race sponsors Skoda.
"Keep left... the wind is on your right... use the wind... right turn ahead... come on Nico, keep going."
Today's course was pretty flat and while I've felt like I've had a good bit of power on the flat in recent days, the places where I struggled today were on the little rises along the stage.
During the first five or six kilometres there were a few rolling hills, the type where you fly down one descent and are halfway up the next before you have to stand on the pedals again. But I found I just didn't have that power to kick on over the top.
Once I was over the crest and had a three-quarter tailwind behind me I felt good and was able to push a big gear again. I had a biggest gear of 55x11 today, which is pretty big, but I think stage winner Tony Martin had a 57 or 58-tooth front chainring.
In Dad's opinion I was spinning the gears too much on the early part of the stage but my rhythm was a lot better in the second half. In the end, I didn't do the time trial of my life but it was okay and I enjoyed it, finishing 28th on the stage, just 20 seconds behind my team leader Alberto.
Unfortunately for us, and the rest of the teams, race leader and Olympic time trial bronze medallist Chris Froome made the most of his skills against the clock, taking more than two minutes out of his nearest rivals for the overall classification.
Alejandro Valverde of Movistar is now in second place, three minutes and 25 seconds behind Froome. Although the British rider now looks to be in a very strong position, my Saxo-Tinkoff team still have a few cards to play, with Alberto up to fourth at three minutes and 54 seconds, and Roman Kreuziger now fifth overall, three more seconds back.
While the gaps to Froome now look pretty big, last Sunday's mountain stage has already shown that while the Yellow Jersey is undoubtedly strong, his Sky team are not as unbeatable as previously thought, so we won't be giving up the fight just yet.