Saturday 16 December 2017

'It was like watching a thriller with the music turned off – you don't get same intensity'

Nicolas Roche's Tour de France diary

United States rider Andrew Talansky of the Garmin-Sharp team crashes during the sprint to the finishing line in stage seven of the the Tour de France from Epernay to Nancy. Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
United States rider Andrew Talansky of the Garmin-Sharp team crashes during the sprint to the finishing line in stage seven of the the Tour de France from Epernay to Nancy. Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Friday July 11, Stage 7: Epernay to Nancy (234.5km)

At yesterday's stage end, I noticed a few friends from Belgium at the side of the road carrying a big flag with my face on it.

They called to the team hotel last night – as did a few friends from northern France – and, as everyone knew each other, we had a nice little chat for a few minutes after dinner before I headed to the physio for more treatment on my calf and shoulder.

After smacking his head off the road in a crash, my team-mate Jesus Hernandez was forced to abandon this year's Tour before the end of yesterday's stage with concussion.

Even though the little Spaniard is no longer racing, our team doctor is making him stay on the race with the team for a few days so he can keep an eye on him.

Jesus is a really happy, smiley kind of guy and is always in good form. Although he was still a bit woozy last night, the slow realisation that he is out of this Tour before we even get to his favourite terrain – the mountains – slowly began to sink in this morning and his morale took a nosedive.

Rather than being concerned about the pain in his head though, he was more worried about possibly leaving his team in the lurch for the rest the Tour. To try and cheer him up we gave him the new title of 'team co-ordinator' on the bus this morning and had a bit of a laugh about his organisational skills.


After a quick chat with my dad and my agent Andrew McQuaid at the sign-on area this morning, our team press officer had three interviews set up for me with various media.

At most races, you can rely on the journalists to at least know a bit about cycling, but at the Tour de France there are a lot of guys just sent to the race to cover it because it's the biggest race in the world.

After an interview with American broadcaster NBC, I had two interviews with Danish TV, one of which wasn't exactly rivetting.

I totally get that cycling can be very technical and sometimes even a bit nerdy, but while it's one thing to be repeatedly asked about the specifications of my new bike, to be asked this morning if I could carry it with two fingers was taking the biscuit.

As it was a television interview though I had to just nod and say 'yes, actually I can carry it with two fingers' and keep answering the rest of the questions before retreating onto the bus for the pre-stage briefing.

After a marathon 234km, today's stage ended with two short sharp hills that we knew would be conducive to attacks.

The plan for my Tinkoff-Saxo team was, as it has been all Tour, to keep team leader Alberto Contador up the front and out of danger, making sure he doesn't lose any time in the process.

After the stage, on the team bus going to the hotel, we looked at the day's highlights on TV and I have to admit it was crazy how boring it looked.

I can understand how fans can say that flat stages like today are boring but for me, watching it on TV was a bit like watching a good thriller with the music turned off – you just don't get the same intensity.

In the race, we were fighting all day for position with the Astana, Cannondale and Movistar teams at the front on narrow roads with a really dead surface.

But on TV you just see everyone riding side by side and maybe the fifth or sixth guy is talking to the guy beside him. It looks as if we're on a cycling holiday.

While it was hard to stay focused in the first hour and a half as a six-man break got established up front, and the peloton took it easy, as the kilometres passed by the stress levels went up and the last 30km flew in.

The first of two fourth-category climbs came with 20km to go and having been alongside each other all day, myself, Michael Rogers and Alberto got sort of separated.

A huge crash right behind us, which brought down American hope Tejay Van Garderen and a handful of others, soon got us re-united.

Once we heard the bang, we hit the front again and rode there to the end to stay out of danger.

Michael rode hard to the bottom of the last climb, the top of which came about 5km from the finish.

With a lot of the sprinters dropped, there were a few attacks here and things began to get messy.

As I was riding alongside Alberto, I had a quick word. "What do we do?" I asked. "Go," was the reply.

I went to the front and rode flat out for as long as I could on the hill but misjudged the top, blew up just a hundred metres beforehand and drifted out the back of the group.

By then, there were only about 30 riders left up front and Alberto was still there. My job done, I got into a chase group of about a dozen guys and finished a few seconds behind.

In a way I was lucky I missed the split because when my group came around the final bend there was a pile of riders picking themselves up off the ground after crashing. I would probably have been alongside them in the middle of the group if I'd stayed there.

When I got to the team bus, I grabbed a protein recovery drink before jumping on the rollers for a few minutes to warm down.

It's not something I do every day but I felt I needed it today to get rid of the lactic acid in my legs from my effort on the final hill.

Tomorrow, we have the first real mountains of this Tour and the job is really only beginning for our team.

Some of the guys have done a pile of work already on these flat stages and have used up a lot of energy but hopefully I'll be up there to help Alberto this weekend.


Irish Independent

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