Thursday 12 December 2019

Nicholas Roche: Giro D'Italia diary - Passo Tonale

'It's not safe for anybody riding back down the mountain'

Rafal Majka of Poland and team Tinkoff-Saxo looks exhausted after crossing the line during the fifteenth stage of the 2014 Giro d'Italia
Rafal Majka of Poland and team Tinkoff-Saxo looks exhausted after crossing the line during the fifteenth stage of the 2014 Giro d'Italia
Team Tinkoff Saxo set up their base at the bottom of the mountain which the riders in the Giro d’Italia will climb today

Nicolas Roche

After a mountain stage on a Grand Tour there is usually a big scramble to get a warm jacket on and cycle back to the team bus, which is normally parked at the bottom.

Yesterday as we cycled back down the 20km descent the road was blocked by a big crowd gathered on one of the corners. It turned out that a cyclo-tourist had hit a wall on the way down and as he wasn't wearing a helmet had died from his injuries and a waiting helicopter had attracted onlookers to the area.

Riding back down the mountain after a stage like yesterday is one of the most dangerous parts of the day with fans, motorbikes, race vehicles and riders all vying for the same steep bit of tarmac, not necessarily all going in the same direction.

It's not safe for anybody, especially the fans, and I think sooner or later there will have to be a new protocol for after these stages, whether that means fans will have to wait behind barriers or riders will have to find a different way down, something will have to be done. When we got to the bus afterwards we had an hour and a half transfer to our new hotel on the Passo Tonale, which hosts a year-round ski resort a little bit higher up.

As has almost become customary now, today's rest day started off with the three teams at our hotel, including my Tinkoff-Saxo squad, having another blood test for the anti-doping officers. Ours wasn't until 8.30 so I had a little bit of a lie-in before the knock on the door came.

As it was starting to rain after breakfast, some of the guys hopped up on the home trainer while our two Polish riders Rafal Majka and Pawel Poljanski, our two Russians Ivan Rovny and Evgeny Petrov, and myself, got a lift in the team car down to the valley where we went training.

The problem with staying up a mountain is that you have to climb the 20km back up to the hotel so today we did around 20km on the flat before riding back up.

After lunch today, I had a coffee and a chat with our Grand Tour first-timers Chris Juul-Jensen and Jay McCarthy.

The two lads have come through their first Giro without any issues apart from, perhaps, Jay's recently acquired penchant for winding people up in the peloton.

For the past four days Jay has had an argument with somebody in the bunch, mainly over something trivial like switching across in front of him in the bunch, braking suddenly or cutting him up during the stage.

The ironic thing is that Jay rides his bike like he's on a broomstick sometimes. When he gets out of the saddle he unintentionally throws his back wheel around a bit and it can be dodgy riding directly behind him.

Last night our road captain Michael Rogers took him aside and told him to chill out a bit more.

"If somebody does something to you, just ignore it. Forget about it and move on. It's not worth the energy wasted fighting about it every day."

But otherwise, Jay and Chris have done really well so far. They've been smart enough to do their work for the team and not try to be Superman by hanging on to any of the front groups afterwards. Riding in with the slower groups and saving energy for the next day, they're getting through the Giro a lot easier than I did in my first Grand Tour.

As per my usual rest day routine, I sorted my bags out this afternoon before relaxing in the room.

On a stage race like the Giro, every rider usually brings a team-issued suitcase, airline-sized carry-on trolley, a backpack and a couple of rain bags.

We used to bring the trolleys on the bus but lately we've all agreed that they take up too much room and now use the backpacks for our race gear, which means you have to pull everything out to get at something in the bottom of the bag.

Our rain bags go in both team cars, one for behind the break and one for behind the peloton. In this I have arm, knee and leg warmers, overshoes, a neoprene jacket, rain jacket, wet gloves, dry gloves, hat, cap and a spare pair of shoes.

As I broke a set of shoes in a crash last week, my girlfriend brought a new pair from home with her when she came to visit me in Savona last Wednesday. I usually go through about five pairs of shoes a year but I always try them out at home or in training camp or somewhere first to make sure they are 100pc right.

Wearing new shoes in a race is not something that's ever recommended. While the mechanics take their measurements from your old pair, sometimes a new pair of shoes can feel a bit off and you have to move the cleats that hold your foot in the pedal a millimetre here or there on a training spin to get them bang on.


I always compare it to pistons in a car. As long as the pistons go straight, always in the same direction, they will go forever. But if you change the direction of those pistons by just a single millimetre they will wear out the whole car and the engine will eventually break down.

Your legs are the pistons attached to your cleats, doing an average of 80rpm for between four and seven hours a day, so if those pistons are a millimetre off you'd soon break the machine.

Tomorrow is going to be the hardest stage of the race so far.

We are due to tackle the 20km first category ascent of the Passo Gavia right after the start, followed by the highest point of the entire race, the 17km-long Stelvio, before finishing atop the 20km-long climb to Val Martello but with metres of snow still on the roadside of the Stelvio we may have to use another mountain.

Looking out my bedroom window now I can see that it's half raining, half snowing outside.

Seems I'll be needing that rain bag.



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