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Cycling: Roche fears boss backlash as Paris-Nice hopes blown off course

Nicolas Roche's hopes of a high overall placing at Paris-Nice were literally blown away yesterday when strong winds prevented him from holding his position in an elite 21-man group that dominated the opening road stage to Orleans.

"I'd been riding pretty well and got into the front group when the bunch split in the crosswinds, which was the hardest part of the stage," said Roche afterwards.

"Then I just took a strong gust of wind and it blew me away. I lost contact with the back of the group and had no shelter, which made it very hard to get back on.

"The next group was 30 seconds back and I felt stupid riding on my own in no-man's land trying to close the gap, which was impossible with the likes of 'Wiggo' (Bradley Wiggins) and (Tom) Boonen riding hard on the front."

The 21-man lead group contained overall contenders Wiggins and Geraint Thomas of Sky, Tour de San Luis winner Levi Leipheimer, his Omega Pharma Quickstep team-mate Boonen, American BMC duo Taylor Phinney and Tejay Van Garderen and recent Tour of Andalucia victor Alejandro Valverde and his Movistar team-mate Jose Rojas Gil.

Elements

As Roche battled the elements, the front group, driven by a determined Wiggins opened an unassailable gap of two and a half minutes.

Boonen benefited from a good lead out in the final kilometres by team-mate Sylvain Chavanel and Nikolas Maes to take the stage victory from Rojas Gil and former FBD Ras green jersey winner John Degenkolb (Project 1T4i). Wiggins took over the yellow jersey by six seconds from Leipheimer.

With the week-long race likely to be decided between the members of yesterday's front group, Roche will now have to channel his energy into chasing stage wins on the five remaining road stages as he is now over three minutes back in 63rd place.

"I'm very p***ed off," he said. "I was just caught out in the wind for a few seconds too long and that was the end of it. I went from thinking I was going to have a great Paris-Nice to thinking, 'oh no, the boss is going to kill me'."

Wiggins once again showed himself to be in top form and on target for a strong Tour de France come July. "They were pretty horrible conditions out there," said the British champion afterwards.

"You're just riding a tightrope all day really and the relief when you finish is incredible. I'm in the shape of my life at the moment. This is a big race in its own right and we're here to win it."

Irish Independent