Friday 24 November 2017

'I cracked and had to watch them ride away from me'

Nicolas Roche's Tour de Romandie has turned to disappointment with little chance now of making an impression on the general classification. Photo: Michael Steele - Velo/Getty Images
Nicolas Roche's Tour de Romandie has turned to disappointment with little chance now of making an impression on the general classification. Photo: Michael Steele - Velo/Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Friday May 2, Stage 3: Le Bouveret – Aigle 180.2km

Undeterred by the stage profile, which included four first-category ascents, or the rain that greeted us at the start this morning, seven riders went clear almost from the gun today.

A hectic pursuit followed and the peloton broke up under the pressure of the French FDJ team but, despite losing two members by the top of the Col de Planches after 50km, the breakaways stayed clear and managed to open up a maximum lead of almost six minutes before the real chase began later on.

I was a bit worried about the descent of the second climb today as we had been warned there were three wooden bridges on the way down. On the top of the Champex-Lac it was only around three degrees and while there wasn't much rain, the roads were still wet and there was plenty of cold spray coming up from the tarmac.

ROUGH

Anyone that has ridden a bike on wet wood knows it's like an ice rink, but thankfully the bridges were made from rough logs rolled together like tight cattle grids and everybody crossed them safely.

With the breakaway group losing riders and time on every mountain, just Europcar team-mates David Malacarne and Cyril Gautier were left out front as we approached the final climb to Villas-sur-Ollon, and both were reeled in just before we hit the incline.

With overnight race leader Michael Albasini and second overall Michal Kwiatkowski both having been shelled out the back on the previous mountain, everybody who was left in the now thinned-out front group knew that the race was up for grabs as we began to ride skywards.

I still had my Tinkoff-Saxo team-mate Rafal Majka up ahead of me in the group as Team Sky set a strong tempo on the lower slopes for their leader Chris Froome, who began the day in ninth place overall, just 19 seconds down.

Within a kilometre of climbing, last year's Giro winner Vincenzo Nibali attacked. Although there was still about 25km to go, eight of which was uphill, the Italian was quickly marked by the defending Tour de France champion. The injection of pace, however, had the rest of us struggling to keep up and soon blew the group apart.

Rafal managed to hold his place in a second group of 10 riders as I drifted out the back and found myself alongsideJon Izzaguirre of Movistar, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Riccardo Zoidl of Trek. When this trio accelerated in an effort to regain contact with Rafal's group, though, I cracked and could only watch as they rode away from me.

As Katusha's Simon Spilak jumped clear of Rafal's chase group and passed Nibali to join Froome out front, another little group caught and passed me towards the end of the climb but I didn't even try to follow the wheels.

Having descended alone I caught Voeckler again with about two kilometres to go and with no group to be seen up ahead or behind, we rode together in no man's land to the finish, losing five minutes and 46 seconds to stage winner Spilak.

To make matters worse for my team, Rafal crashed on the descent when Frenchman Thibot Pinot got his wheel caught in a tram line on the road in front of him.

While it's never fun to crash, and Rafal had a bit of skin missing off his hip, the fact that it was raining meant he didn't come off too badly.

But with Rafal down to 12th and me down to 21st, it means that both our hopes of doing anything in the overall classification are gone now.

I'm a bit disappointed with today's performance. I thought I was in good shape but as soon as we hit the last climb and went full gas for the first 2km or so, I realised that I was still missing a bit of that top-end stuff.

I felt pretty strong at training camp and hoped to be a bit more competitive here and take on a bit of responsibility.

While the big goal is the Giro d'Italia next week, this race is important and it would have been nice to get a bit of a result here before the Giro – good for the morale.

I still have about a kilo and a half to lose before the Giro too. If you think about it, that's like carrying two full water bottles in your back pocket up each climb. It mightn't sound much but at this level you pay for everything.

TOUR DE ROMANDIE, LIVE, SKY SPORTS 3, 3.0

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