Tuesday 16 January 2018

'Maybe losing the jersey will be to Sky's advantage'

Tour de France Diary

Romain Bardet digs deep on his way to claiming stage glory. Photo: Reuters
Romain Bardet digs deep on his way to claiming stage glory. Photo: Reuters

Nicolas Roche

Thursday, July 13 - Stage 12: Pau to Peyregudes (214.5km)

Although our team hotel was just 2km from today's stage start, it was lashing rain when we walked outside this morning so we decided to use the team bus to get there.

On the ride to sign-on, I met my dad for the first time in two weeks, even though he has been working on the race every day with Skoda. We didn't get much more than a couple of words in though before we had to part ways.

It was still raining when we rolled out of Pau but with a very long day in the mountains ahead of us and a big battle expected for a place in the breakaway, none of my team wore rain jackets for fear we'd overheat during the early attacks.

The aim for my BMC squad was to try and get two men into the breakaway this morning but when the move eventually got clear after about 15km of non-stop attacks, our young Swiss rider Stefan Kung was the only one to make it. Myself and Demma (Allesandro Di Marchi) tried to jump across to the group at first but were shut down.


The fact that we didn't make it however was a blessing in disguise as today was the wrong day to get up the road. With things tight at the top of the overall classification, Sky kept them on a tight leash in the hope that Chris Froome could have a chance of stage victory and take the ten-second time bonus that goes with it, eventually reeling in the last of the escapees on the climb to the summit finish in Peyregudes.

I've been feeling a bit crap since the rest day, with a sore throat and sinuses. All I can put it down to is the air conditioning on the plane transfer after Sunday's stage so I was looking forward to the sun coming out for the second part of the stage but unfortunately it never got really warm and the rain and the cold descents today definitely didn't help.

Demma crashed on the descent off the Col de Mente after 140km when his pedal clipped the road on the way out of a corner. He has a few cuts and plasters on his knee, elbow, and hip now but he says he's alright.

On the Hors Category Port de Bales 30km later, I stayed near the front with our best-placed rider on GC, Damiano Caruso, for a few kilometres but with nothing to be gained by fighting to stay in the group and another week and a half of racing to come, I drifted down through the group before riding to the top at my own pace with Danish rider Michael Valgren of Astana.

We picked up a couple of riders on the penultimate climb of the Col du Peyresourde, including Ag2r's Oliver Naesen. The newly-crowned Belgian champion was obviously impressed with the amount of Irish fans along the road today.

"For such a small country, with only two riders," he said. "I can't believe how much support you guys have on the side of the road. Every few metres there is an Irish flag."

Although I was trying not to kill myself on the last two climbs, I knew I still had to get to the finish so I rode at a decent enough tempo, keeping my heart rate at around 150-155 bpm.

On the descent, our group caught Jakob Fuglsang, so Valgren stopped to nurse his team-mate and friend to the finish. Jakob lives near me in Monaco and we often train together.

This morning he had begun the day in fifth place overall but was clearly suffering from the fractures in his scaphoid and elbow he sustained in a crash in the feed zone yesterday and told me that while he could just about handle the pain, he couldn't squeeze the handlebars and had no power in his upper body on the uphill sections.

In the end, my group of seven or eight riders finished 19 minutes behind French stage winner Romain Bardet of Ag2r.

The fact that Bardet won the stage surprised me, as I had Italian champion Fabio Aru earmarked as the favourite after his ride on Planches de Belles Filles last week. But the bigger surprise was the fact that Froome lost 22 seconds, and his yellow jersey, in the last few hundred metres. Don't get me wrong, the last few hundred metres were very steep today, even in the 39x28 gear I was riding but normally it would be a finish suited to Froomey.

With Aru six seconds clear of Froome and in yellow now, Astana will be the ones who have to control the race but with Fuglsang suffering from his injuries and Dario Cataldo gone home with a broken wrist, they are going to have their work cut out for them.

Maybe losing the jersey will be to Sky's advantage, even if you never want to give it away once you have it.

My cousin Dan (Martin) put in another great ride to finish sixth and move into fifth place overall today.

Hopefully he can recover a bit from his own injuries and move up again in the next few days.

After the finish, we had to wait for the last rider on the stage to cross the line, 38 minutes after the winner, before the buses were given a police escort down the mountain.

With six hours on the bike and a three-hour post-stage transfer, it's been a long day.

Tour de France,

Live, TG4 / Eurosport, 1.30pm

Irish Independent

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