Sunday 18 February 2018

'A rival rider thought I wasn't fast enough and flew past me'

Nicolas Roche's Tour de France diary

Nicolas Roche in action
Nicolas Roche in action

Nicolas Roche's Tour de France diary

Saturday July 12, Stage 8: Tomblaine to Gerardmer

With three short, sharp climbs coming at the end of today's stage, my Tinkoff-Saxo team's plan was pretty simple this morning.

We would ignore those going for the stage win, keep an eye on the overall contenders, and leave the race to its own devices until we hit the first of those climbs with 30km to go.

Here, we hoped to split the stage up by taking turns riding really hard at the front, forcing the pace up in the peloton until we got to the bottom of the 1.8km finishing climb, where team leader Alberto Contador would try and get some time back on race leader Vincenzo Nibali.

Although it's decided before the stage who rides hard on which climb, this morning my team-mates Sergio Paulhino and Rafal Majka tried to wind each other up about who was doing the work on the first one.

"You pull first," said Sergio.

"No, you pull first."

"It's more important to pull later on."

"Yeah, so you pull first!"

"No. You pull first!"

Although Sergio wound Rafal up for a long time, he was the first one to ride hard into the bottom of the third category Col de la Croix des Mointas as planned, after Matteo Tossato, Daniele Bennati and Michael Morkov had done a great job to get our team into position at the front of the peloton.

Sergio went flat out the whole way up, with Michael Rogers behind him and then Alberto. The goal was for me to be in line with the guys from the start of the climb but as it had just stopped lashing rain I had taken my rain gilet off and drifted back a few places to find a team-mate to give it to.

There was nobody else around however, so I gave up and threw it away, probably giving some fan a nice souvenir on his way home.

I fought my way back to the front of the group before Rafal took over on the second category Col de Grosse Pier a few kilometres later.

Here, I decided to have one last energy gel but spent ages trying to open it and drifted back down the bunch again while trying to rip the gel pack open with my teeth.

Rafal is a very explosive climber and was flying on the climb.

As I tried to claw my way back into the line, I silently hoped he'd finish his turn a bit sooner and let me get my breath back as I knew I had to hang on to him first, then Michael, before I got to do my bit.

Michael did an amazing job over the top and absolutely tore down the descent, opening a little gap at the front.

Alberto was behind me and as I didn't want him to be under pressure, I dropped off Michael's wheel to make sure he didn't catch any wind before getting on the radio.

"Michael, we're not on the wheel!"

This morning we had decided that I would sprint out of the bottom corner leading into the last 1.8km climb and ride as hard as I could for as long as I could as the road ramped up.

I sprinted for about 500 metres before opting to sit down and set a hard tempo.

But one of the Movistar guys must have thought I wasn't riding hard enough and flew past me.

When he hit the front though, he only lasted another 100 metres himself while I had already eased up and begun to ride to the top at my own tempo.

Alberto attacked a few times on the climb and finished second on the stage behind lone escapee Blel Kadri of Ag2r, a former team-mate and good friend of mine.

While he didn't really get rid of Nibali, Alberto gained three seconds on the Italian and moved up to sixth place overall.

We still have two and a half minutes to go but it's better to have gained three seconds today than lose three seconds.

Sunday July 13, Stage 9: Gerardmer to Mulhouse (170km)

Although it was raining at the start this morning, we were faced with the 11km long second-category ascent of the Col de la Slucht straight from the gun and I knew I would soon be roasting if I put my rain cape on.

Instead, I cut the top off one of the two drinking bottles on my bike and stuffed it inside so that I could use it on the descent or later on in the stage if I needed to.

As soon as we started to climb, riders began to attack and a large escape group contested the King of the Mountains points at the top.

Although there were six climbs on today's stage, the finish came over 40km from the top of the last one so most teams knew there was no real point in trying to split the peloton in the mountains today.

But as little groups of five or six riders kept disappearing off the front, we decided to try and get somebody into one of them.

As world time trial champion Tony Martin of Omega Pharma Quickstep and Italian Allessandro De Marchi of Cannondale jumped away after about 40km, my team-mate Sergio Paulhino managed to get across to a large 28-man chase group behind them.

The best placed rider in that group was Tony Gallopin of Lotto Belisol.

The Frenchman had begun the day in 11th place overall and when they opened a gap of over three minutes and 27 seconds he became virtual race leader of the Tour.

Although the Astana team set a steady pace at the front of the peloton for most of the day, Gallopin would eventually take the yellow jersey from Vincenzo Nibali by finishing five minutes before us, with stage winner Martin a further 2:47 ahead.

We had some raindrops during the stage but on the first category climb of Le Markstein, with 42km to go, it started lashing rain and Alberto called for a rain cape.

Instead of somebody having to drop back to the car and then fighting their way back up to the group on the climb, I pulled mine out of my bottle and handed it to him.

I had a thick undervest on today so I wasn't too cold anyway.

With Benna and Michael Rogers alongside Alberto and the stage already decided, myself and Rafal Majka decided to sit up out of the group and finish the stage easy in an effort to save some energy for tomorrow.

Finishing on the 10km first category La Planche Belles Filles, tomorrow also takes in three more first category, two second category and one third category ascent and is going to be the biggest day so far.

Tony Gallopin will be the first Frenchman for quite some time to wear the Tour's yellow jersey on Bastille Day when he rolls out from Mulhouse tomorrow, but he may not have it at the end of the stage.


TG4 11.55, ITV4 12.30, EUROSPORT 12.0

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