Wednesday 17 January 2018

Nicholas Roche: 'Richie would have won if Froomey hadn't closed the door'

Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang (R) crosses the finish line to win the stage ahead of Australia’s Richie Porte (L) and Chris Froome. Photo: Getty
Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang (R) crosses the finish line to win the stage ahead of Australia’s Richie Porte (L) and Chris Froome. Photo: Getty

Nicholas Roche

Friday, June 9 - Stage 7: Villars-de-Dombes to La Motte Servolex (146km) Having crashed into the back of my team car during yesterday's stage, I spent the drive to the hotel afterwards with an ice pack on my right shoulder and, after my usual post-race massage, had some extra time on the table last night getting my neck cracked back into shape by the team osteopath.

Although I slept okay, I felt a bit rusty when I woke up and having found it hard to lift a jug of orange juice at breakfast, I made sure to pack my race food into the left-hand pocket of my jersey before today's stage - although a few minutes before the start I didn't even have a jersey.

Because I don't like wearing a jersey I've crashed in, I threw yesterday's one into my suitcase last night and sent my spare one to be washed.

Instead of letting it dry naturally though I put it in the tumble dryer afterwards and when I went to put it on this morning it had shrunk.

As I wear the Irish national champion's jersey at the moment, I couldn't borrow one of my team-mates' jerseys so I tried to stretch it, but ended up ripping it instead.

I had to ride to the sign-on in a long sleeve top as one of the soigneurs drove to intercept the van with my suitcase in it. Thankfully, he made it back in time for the start.

With the 15km long 'Hors Category' climb of Le Chat coming 30km from the finish today, we expected overnight leader Thomas De Gendt to lose his grip on the yellow jersey so, with Richie (Porte) best placed to profit if he did, my BMC team took on the task of controlling the breakaway this morning.

When six riders got clear early on, we let the gap open to five minutes before putting our young Swiss rider Kilian Frankiny on the front.

With just one against six though, they had seven minutes after 40km so I asked Danilo Wyss to give him a hand on the third-category climb that followed.

The duo rode pretty solidly and kept the gap stable until the Ag2r team came up and took over after about 85km.

Riding towards a home-town finish, they were hoping to bring the break back so that Romain Bardet could do one of his kamikaze descents and win the stage. Happy to save our legs, we let them.

At the foot of Le Chat, with 30km to go, we took over with Allesandro Di Marchi, Amael Moinard and Ben Hermans all taking their turn on the front as Richie and I sat behind them.

The guys' pace soon put overnight leader De Gendt in trouble and he went out the back door after about 5km of climbing, leaving Richie the virtual race leader on the road.

When a Movistar guy upped the pace 7km from the top, I just told Ben to let him go.

I knew his team leader, third-placed Alejandro Valverde, was going to go after him but I reckoned 7km from the top and 21km from the finish was way too far out, so when the Spaniard jumped a few metres later I just went to the front and held the gap at around 10 seconds, knowing that Richie was capable of closing it if he wanted to.

When Esteban Chaves chased, followed Bora's Emmanuel Buchmann and Fabio Aru of Astana, I maintained the tempo but when the next wave of attacks came about 5km from the top, Richie accelerated after them and I drifted out the back.

Initially, I continued riding at a hard pace in case they slowed again and I could go back up and help Richie but the attacks kept coming and they pulled away so the team car told me to save some energy for tomorrow.

As Richie tore down the narrow, winding descent, pulling clear with Chris Froome, Aru and Jakob Fuglsang, I rolled down it alone until Ben caught me with 3km to go.

In the radio, we could hear Richie was up there and had been involved in the sprint for the stage win but had no idea he'd finished a close second to Fuglsang on the stage until we crossed the line.

Richie only lost by the width of a tyre and judging by the video afterwards probably would have won if Froomey hadn't closed the door on him in the last 50 metres.

Richie now leads the race by 39 seconds from Froomey with two days to go. Hopefully we can keep him in yellow now.

Irish Independent

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