Roche: 'One of the Irish fans made me laugh'
'Go on Nico, I loved your book!'' they shouted
As my room-mate Roman Kreuziger was up early to check out the time trial course before today's stage, I got up too and sat down to breakfast with him this morning.
Wednesday, July 17 – Stage 17: Embrun to Chorges, 32km Individual Time Trial
While he's under no pressure to win this Tour, Roman seems to be in the shape of his life and began today in fourth place overall, 11 seconds behind our Saxo-Tinkoff team leader Alberto Contador and 14 seconds off Dutchman Bauke Mollema's second place.
Like the rest of us, Roman was brought to this Tour to help Alberto to win it, so to be in such a good position with five days left is a bonus. Knowing that a good time trial would lift him into a dream podium placing on the Tour de France, I could see that Roman was a little bit nervous this morning.
While today's stage was very important for Alberto and Roman, for me it was just another stage to get through before I'm needed again for the next three mountain stages.
While the guys checked out the course, I hopped on my bike for about 40 minutes on the road near the hotel, relaxing in my room before lunch and heading for the stage start.
We arrived in Embrun quite early and while I was wandering around the team area I met Paul Kimmage, who is doing a daily video diary from the Tour on independent.ie, and we had a five-minute chat.
As my old Ag2r team bus was parked beside ours, I popped in next door to say hello to some of the guys who had been my team-mates over the previous four years. I'd heard that their team leader Jean-Christophe Peraud, who was ninth overall this morning, had broken his collarbone in the warm-up and wanted to wish him well.
Although he was away being treated by the doctors, the guys told me he would still ride the time trial.
After a cup of coffee with the guys, I went back onto my own bus, got changed and warmed up. With two second-category climbs featuring in today's race against the clock, I used a normal road bike with normal climbing wheels. The only thing extra that I did was add a pair of tri-bars and a 54-tooth front chain-ring for the second descent to the finish.
Almost straight away I knew that I hadn't recovered too well from my breakaway efforts of yesterday but had some comfort in the knowledge that I didn't have to flog myself. I wasn't going slow but, knowing that Alberto and Roman would need me to be around for as long as possible on the next three mountain stages, I wasn't riding flat out and Ag2r's John Gadret, who had started two minutes behind me, caught me on the top of the final climb.
You may remember him as the team-mate whose head I wanted to put through the window of the team bus a few years ago when he didn't give me a wheel after I punctured. Nowadays we get on fine and today I pulled to the side and let him past as he took a few risks on the descent in a sudden rain shower. He ended the day 23 seconds ahead of me in 33rd place overall.
Once again I was cheered on by a large Irish contingent at the roadside. It has been incredible the support myself and Dan Martin get every day, and while I didn't exactly wave at them on the climbs, I tried to acknowledge every tricolour with a nod at least.
As I was riding past a set of supporters one of them made me laugh by shouting "Go on Nico!" and then as an afterthought, "I loved your book!"
At the finish today, I saw Dolores Usher, who used to be my masseuse when I was younger in Ireland. I tried to ride over to her to say hello but my path was suddenly blocked by media asking me questions, and by the time I got rid of them she had disappeared.
After the stage, I cycled the half-hour trip back to the hotel, and watched the rest of the stage from the comfort of my bed. I have to say I grimaced when I saw Jean-Christophe Peraud landing on the same already-broken collarbone on a greasy corner with just 2km to go. They interviewed my old team manager Vincent Lavenu and you could see how passionate he is about his team. He could hardly speak.
It's hard when you put everything on one guy and fight so hard for two weeks only for him to crash out. Peraud was doing quite a fast time until he hit the deck a second time. It's a pity for him and for the lads on Ag2r who have worked so hard for him.
Alberto and Roman did good time trials today and moved up to second and third place on GC and gave themselves a half-minute or so cushion on fourth-placed Mollema. Watching race leader Chris Froome in the last few kilometres, I hoped he wouldn't beat Alberto's time. It would have been great to have won a stage but it didn't happen. Froome won by nine seconds with Alberto second, so we'll have no glass of wine tonight.
We have three really horrible mountain stages ahead of us now, beginning with tomorrow's double ascent and mountain-top finish at Alpe d'Huez. With 21 steep switchbacks on the 13km-long iconic climb, the only thing I'm looking forward to is the fact that Irish fans have claimed corner number 10 on the Alpe as their own.
While I can't wait for 'Irish Corner' tomorrow, it's going to be mega hard, so don't expect me to wave.