Tuesday 16 January 2018

'My feet were like blocks of ice when we stopped'

The pack rides under the snow during the third stage of the 74th edition of the Paris-Nice cycling race KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/ AFP/ Getty Images
The pack rides under the snow during the third stage of the 74th edition of the Paris-Nice cycling race KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/ AFP/ Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Wednesday March 9, Stage 3: Cusset to Mony Brouilly (168km)

Although we had a later start than usual this morning, it was still only two or three degrees outside as we left our hotel at 11.0 for the transfer to the stage start.

Dry when we left, it started bucketing down halfway through our pre-stage team meeting on the bus and when we got news that it was already snowing on top of the day's highest climb, we instinctively reached for our winter wet-gear bags.

With five third-categories and one second-category climb before an uphill finish today, our main goal was to keep fifth-placed Geraint Thomas in contention and not to let any big groups escape in the early kilometres without having somebody from Sky in them.

With seven riders gone clear after 10km of racing, Ben Swift jumped into the next move for us and was part of a 14-man group that merged at the front a couple of kilometres later.

When the breakaway's lead went up to four minutes, there was a bit of a lull in the peloton so, feeling a little overdressed after the fast start, I took the opportunity to drop back to the team car and swap my heavy rain jacket for a lighter version.

By the time I'd done this, though, the chase had begun and I only had time to stuff it in my jersey pocket as I tried to regain contact with the peloton before the first climb after 60km.

Normally, I can put my jacket on without stopping but my thick winter gloves and a strong wind forced me to pull in at the top of the climb to zip it up ahead of the cold descent.

The peloton came back together as we headed towards the longest climb of the day right after 90km. As we began to climb, the weather worsened and by halfway up the 10km ascent there was a couple of centimetres of snow on the road.

The higher we rode, the thicker the snow got and we all knew the long descent that followed would be very dangerous.

After a bit of chatter in the peloton about the worsening conditions, we were informed that the race would be stopped on top of the climb.

Here, we were to jump into our team cars, drive down the icy descents and restart the race in the valley with 40km to go. The problem was that nobody was organised for that.

With the team buses already at the finish and directeurs and mechanics taking up a couple of spaces in each team car there wasn't enough room for all of the riders so, instead of stopping, we rode on for another 3km to the feed zone where all of the team carers were parked, ready to hand up our race food.

Here, after a bit of deliberation and 100km of racing, it was decided to cancel the stage altogether.

As riders huddled together into a farmhouse to wait for their cars to come along, some of the lads took full advantage of the size of our carer's Ford Max, while I hopped in beside Luke and Boz in one of our team cars.

It was only then I realised how cold and numb my feet were. They were like blocks of ice. I whipped my shoes and socks off and wrapped them in a pair of dry leg warmers in an effort to warm them up.

As well as our usual kit bags, at Sky we also have a couple of extreme weather bags in each car this year. These bags contain really heavy winter clothing which is normally used if we have to ride back down off a summit finish to get to the team bus after a stage.

One of the best things in the bag is a new Rapha jacket that heats up at the press of a button. I haven't worn it on the bike yet but it felt really nice and toasty as I sat in the car on the drive to the finish.

While today wasn't that cold for much of the stage, the dangerous descents in the middle of the race are what caused the stage to be cancelled.

The new emergency weather protocol worked in favour of the riders today but the real pity is that it wasn't snowing at the finish, so if we'd had an alternative route around the climbs we could have probably kept racing.

I know it's easier said than done but races at the start of the year, with a high risk of snow in the mountains, should consider another option.

Paris-Nice, live, Eurosport 2, 3.30

Irish Independent

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