Tuesday 16 January 2018

Froomey constantly told us: 'Don't give up. I can still win this' - Nicolas Roche

Christopher Froome climbs the last hill ahead of USA's Tejay Van Garderen, wearing the overall leader’s yellow jersey, at the last stage of the Criterium du Dauphine Criterium yesterday GETTY IMAGES
Christopher Froome climbs the last hill ahead of USA's Tejay Van Garderen, wearing the overall leader’s yellow jersey, at the last stage of the Criterium du Dauphine Criterium yesterday GETTY IMAGES

Nicolas Roche

Saturday, June 13, Stage 7: Montmelian to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc (155km)

Although our team leader here, Chris Froome, lost more time yesterday and began today's penultimate stage a minute and 25 seconds behind new race leader Vincenzo Nibali of Astana, it was pretty clear to us this morning that Froomey wasn't done yet.

"I'm pretty sure those guys spent a lot of energy yesterday in that attack," he began as we discussed the day's tactics before the start. "Okay, we had a bad day yesterday, but let's show them that we have character. Let's react today and make the race hard for them."

We knew that the five first-category mountains to be tackled today would give us ample opportunity to do just that and Froomey's motivational words saw us agree to take the race on, without panicking if a group went up the road early on.


Although 26 riders had gone clear by the second climb of the day, our plan was for Ian Stannard to put the hammer down on the next one, the 11km long Col de la Croix Fry, which came just after the feed zone, about 80km in.

'Yogi' Stannard put in a huge effort and by the time he swung off the front, on the steeper section near the top, there were only about 50 guys left in the peloton as the breakaways began to splinter up ahead.

Although Yogi was done for the day, we still had five riders there at the top, where Philip Deignan and Ian Boswell grabbed two feed bags from a team carer and distributed bottles and energy gels between us.

After a steady descent, Philip did a great job of keeping the tempo high on the 4km long Col de Aravis that followed and after a long descent, we arrived into an unlit tunnel to see Dominic Nerz of BMC prone on the ground, the young German having crashed out of the break on the wet tunnel surface.

We had planned to keep our young American climber 'Boz' for later in the stage but having been dropped on the climb and made his way back to us on the descent, he gave Philip - who spent most of the last 40km on the front - a break as we headed towards the penultimate ascent, the Cotes de Aramands after 145km.

With Boz finally dropped with 12km to go, Phil led us onto the lower slopes before Peter Kennaugh upped the pace on the steepest climb of the day and our plan began to pay off, with race leader Nibali getting dropped.

As the favourites' group split in half under Pete's pressure, I began to struggle and found myself in the second half going over the top.

Pete led the group onto the final climb where Wout Poels took over with 8km left, setting a pace that blew Alejandro Valverde and a few other contenders out the back a couple of kilometres later, leaving just Tejay van Garderen better placed overall than Froomey in the group.

While Chris' attack in the last 3km didn't see him gain enough time on Van Garderen to take the yellow jersey, he won the stage and moved himself to within 18 seconds of the new leader with one day left.

Phil was at the back of Nibali's group when they caught me about a kilometre later, but he eased up slightly and we rode to the summit finish together, wary of another hard day ahead.

Sunday, June 14, Stage 8: Saint Gervais Mont Blanc to Modane Valfrejus (156km)

Last night saw us housed in a nice ski chalet overlooking Les Gets. With three riders to each apartment, we all had our own room and it was nice to have a bit of space after spending the week cramped in little hotel rooms.

Originally due to share with Yogi and Luke Rowe, our apartment got even more spacious when Luke, who had finished the stage despite being sick, was taken out and put into quarantine before being pulled out of the race this morning.

With just 18 seconds separating Froomey and race leader Van Garderen this morning and time bonuses of ten, six and four seconds on offer for the first three across the line at the finish, we knew that if Chris could pull off the stage win and Van Garderen missed the podium spots, he would only need nine seconds' advantage over the American at the finish to win this Dauphine outright.

Although the terrain wasn't quite as hard as yesterday, we knew we could make it hard ourselves so we took things on quite early this morning, with Pete and Philip going to the front of the peloton on the opening second-category climb, after about 20km, and keeping the early break within touching distance.

Once we got off the climb and down into the valley, Yogi took over and for the next 70km or so did an amazing job to hold the breakaways at around three-and-a-half minutes on his own, until we got to the bottom of the fourth climb of the day, the second-category Lacets de Montverniers, which we will also tackle in next month's Tour de France.

Here, my cousin Dan Martin's Garmin Cannondale team came to the front for a while but Philip and Pete came around them on the switchback-laden ascent and the duo continued to share the workload to the foot of the penultimate mountain with about 20km to go.

I was due to hit the front next but the Ag2r team suddenly swarmed to the front on the flat section and we let them at it as Froomey handed me his sunglasses ahead of the penultimate climb.

Van Garderen's last team-mate, Rohan Dennis, came to the front on the climb but Valverde attacked on the descent. Having sat behind Phil and Pete for most of the day, I began to chase the Spaniard but only got to ride on the front for about 2km before Nibali came past me with Micheli Scarponi on his wheel in the last 6km.

The Italian duo really upped the pace on the incline and I was soon struggling in their wake, eventually flicking my elbow to signal for Poels to come around me and close the gap when Scarponi attacked.

With Scarponi reeled in and just Steve Cummings of MTN Qhubeka left out front from the early break, the chance of a stage win for Froomey was still on but Wout knew he had to make it as hard as possible to try and get rid of Van Garderen and he put in a hard dig that saw me and a handful of others go out the back door.


As the group disappeared up the road, I could hear the action unfold in my earpiece as Chris attacked again in the final 3km and managed to pull off his second stage win in a row.

His 18-second winning margin and 10-second time bonus also saw him come away with overall victory, which is a fantastic result considering it looked less than likely after our team time trial performance and our bad day in the rain a couple of days ago.

Although we had a couple of off days here, one of our strong points has been our fighting spirit and the fact that we never gave up hope.

It was also great to have a team leader like Froomey constantly telling us: "Don't give up. I can still win this."

Personally, I'm feeling pretty tired at the moment and a bit disappointed not to have been able to help Chris a bit more on some of the final climbs but I had a big block of training before this Dauphine and now it will be all about recovering for the Tour de France in three weeks' time.

After a week of very early starts, today's late finish and a four-and-a-half-hour drive back to Monaco means it will be bedtime before I get home. I can't wait.

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