Nicolas Roche: 'How I bounced back from the biggest injury of my career'
I broke my kneecap in a crash at the Vuelta a Espana at the end of August, and was pretty miserable when I was told I wouldn't be able to ride my bike for at least six weeks.
At first, I wasn't able to walk, let alone cycle, so I used the time off to iron out a few details of my upcoming leisure cycle with Belgian star Philippe Gilbert in Dublin next weekend before flying back to Ireland to finalise the route and organise the pre-ride dinner at Palmerstown House Estate.
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As well as a broken kneecap, I had a pretty big oedema on my thigh, stitches in my arm and plenty of cuts and bruises so I visited chiropractor and physical therapist Paul Tansey while I was in Dundrum.
Paul was a masseur for my dad and has looked after me for years.
After looking at my wounds he recommended that I go to the national hyperbaric chamber in Dublin and I'm convinced it helped heal my wounds a lot faster than they would have.
Back in Spain I saw a guy who looks after a lot of the Spanish motocross guys and he used magnetic waves and infrared on my knee and I also tried vacuum therapy - which involves a strange machine that helps oedema by sucking the skin up off it and increasing blood flow and lymphatic drainage.
I had never done it before but I wanted to try and give myself the best chance of recovery possible. Even though my season was over, I missed riding my bike and wanted to be able to take part in my own leisure event in Dublin with the Irish fans.
Before going home, Paul encouraged me to have another MRI scan after four weeks instead of the six weeks the doctor had previously suggested, so I went for a scan after four and a half weeks and was told my kneecap was fine but I had to be a little bit careful for the first week or so.
My first spin back was for an hour along the seafront in Monaco and it reminded me of why I took up the sport in the first place and why people ride leisure events in Ireland and all over the world every week.
As a professional rider, it's easy to get caught up in results, watts, kilometres and kilograms and it's easy to miss the scenery, the fresh air, the sunshine and the joy of just being out for a spin with your friends.
Initially, I had thought about putting a timed segment into next weekend's event, maybe putting a Strava segment on the Wicklow Gap, but I've decided against it.
The Project Series is not a race, it's a leisure cycle and it's all about having fun on the bike and getting to meet former world champion and one-day classics star Philippe Gilbert.
If you're not sure you can do the 105km route, which takes in Sally Gap and Wicklow Gap, the 65km route is a lot flatter.
It's a nice loop around Blessington Lakes and while there are still a few climbs, they are nice and short and nothing too difficult.
I think people of all levels will be able to do the 65km loop and for both rides the pace is going to be quite controlled.
The longer loop has been one of my favourite training rides from as far back as my junior days.
Back then I just went out on the bike with friends like Tim Cassidy and Andrew McQuaid.
On each climb it was 'first one to the top' and then we would sprint against each other coming into Roundwood or wherever there was a signpost.
Things have got a lot more scientific since then.
When I was a kid I'd never heard of VO2max tests, heart rate monitors or lactate levels.
I didn't buy my first power metre until 2011 and even then I wasn't allowed use it while racing as my team, Ag2r, weren't sponsored by the manufacturers.
In fairness, Ag2r knew it was an important too to help me progress and I was allowed have it in my pocket for some smaller races but I finished fifth overall at the Vuelta in 2012 without one.
Nowadays, power metres are regarded as a basic tool and are pretty affordable.
The internet, books and training camps mean it's much easier to find out what type of training you should be doing or shouldn't be doing
But even with all the technology available nowadays, listening to your body is very important for both racing cyclists and leisure cyclists and the more you train the more you will notice little things about how you react to different types of training.
If you have a cold or are sick, then give yourself a break and take some time to recover instead of riding through it. Even stuff like a hard day at work or a bad night's sleep can really affect things too.
As part of a professional team, with my race program mapped out, my training is set every week by my coach - but it's also modifiable and still down to common sense.
I probably speak to my coach twice a day. In the morning I whatsapp him to tell him how I'm feeling or if I think I need to change my training plan and then afterwards I upload the data.
If I feel tired, or feel I can't do whatever session is planned, it's up to me to make that decision.
I've often had a six hour ride planned, followed by a rest day, but if it's lashing rain I might swap the days around, do an hour on the turbo trainer on the wet day and do the six hours the next day when it's dry.
At the moment, I'm back up to about three hours spins and should be fine to ride the Project Series.
Hopefully the Irish weather will hold up for Philippe Gilbert's first spin in Ireland and everyone will get to meet one of the best classics riders of this generation.
Myself and Philippe are not just going to be at the front of the ride.
We will be there before the start, during the sportive and after the finish.
We'll be drifting back through the groups and plan to stop along the way so that we can ride with people at the back who want to take it a bit easier than others.
We'll also take a bit of time at the feed zones, which will probably be in Ballymount and Laragh, to chat and mix with everyone and in the afternoon we'll be hanging around for photos and autographs or whatever people want.
If you're coming along, bring a helmet, a spare tube and maybe a pump but we will have a stand at the start in case you forget something and a broom wagon at the back of the ride just in case.
Tag line: Join me and Philippe Gilbert on The Project Series sportive through the Wicklow Mountains on October 20. For information and to register see
My top tips
1. Get a bike fit.
Whether you’re thinking of buying a new bike or already have one, getting a bike fit or at least having somebody with a lot of racing experience throw their eye over your setup is a must.
Something as simple as raising or dropping your saddle or handlebars a few millimeters, buying a shorter or longer stem or moving your saddle forward or back can make a huge difference and can help ease back and neck complaints and make cycling more comfortable and a lot more efficient.
Like a new suit, your bike can be made of the best material but it’s not much good if it doesn’t fit you.
2. Pump your Tyres.
You wouldn’t drive your car on flat tyres so why ride your bike on them?
Rolling resistance is huge in cycling and the higher the pressure the easier it is to ride on. A tyre’s susceptibility to punctures is lower with high pressures, too. If the pressure is continuously too low, tyres can cracking and wear a lot quicker than usual.
On a dry day, your tyres should ping when you flick them with your finger.
On a wet day you can let a few bars of pressure out of them to allow a bit more grip.
Different width tyres require different pressures so check what your optimum pressure is for different weather conditions.
3. Bring a spare tube and a pump.
You’d be surprised how many people go for a spin without a pump or spare tube. Don’t get caught in the middle of nowhere with a flat wheel and no plan.
Check your tyres for nicks and tears before long spins and replace them if necessary.
Also buy yourself a puncture kit and a set of tyre levers. In the old days I brought my mother’s spoons in my pocket as tyre levers. Sorry Mum.
4. Be prepared for all weathers.
Don’t go training in the winter in a pair of shorts and a short sleeve jersey. People think because you are pedaling you are going to be warm but remember the top half of your body doesn’t move that much and even your legs will be frozen in winter.
Have a rain cape in your back pocket just in case or cut the top off a plastic bidon and stuff it into that.
Gloves are also a must, summer or winter. Apart from the comfort issue, If you fall you always land on your hands and it goes without saying that you should never ride anywhere without a helmet.
Also bring food in your pockets, a few bob in case you get stuck somewhere and a phone for emergencies.
5. Don’t get sucked into going too hard too soon.
Ride at your own tempo. If you go out with more experienced or fitter riders, let them ride off on the hills and if they keep riding off don’t go out with them any more.
Learn to pace yourself. Fitness will eventually come. Don’t increase intensity and distance at the same time. Do one or the other.
It’s better to turn back early on a group spin than find yourself on your hands and knees and 40km from home.
Check out Part 2 tomorrow