Tuesday 20 August 2019

Nicolas Roche: 'A few little mistakes on the descent told me I wasn't quite as alert as I should be'

Tour de France Diary

Saturday July 20, Stage 14: Tarbes to Col du Tourmalet (117km)

Sky high: Jumbo-Visma's Steven Kruijswijk (L) and Team Ineos's Geraint Thomas do battle on the slopes of Foix Prat d'Albis during yesterday's stage 15. Photo: MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images
Sky high: Jumbo-Visma's Steven Kruijswijk (L) and Team Ineos's Geraint Thomas do battle on the slopes of Foix Prat d'Albis during yesterday's stage 15. Photo: MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

The Col du Tourmalet is one of the legendary climbs of the Tour de France. The 20km-long mountain came at the end of today's stage and before the start most of us agreed that we were going to see the GC guys attack each other on the summit finish. Everybody wants to win on the Tourmalet.

Lenny got up the road in a 17-man group early on today, but Groupama FDJ signalled the intent of their team leader Thibaut Pinot by taking up the chase as soon as the break got two minutes.

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France's Julian Alaphilippe battles to limit his losses. Photo: JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images
France's Julian Alaphilippe battles to limit his losses. Photo: JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images

After 55km, it was increasingly clear that the finish would see a battle between the GC guys as Movistar upped the pace halfway up the 12km long Col du Soulor.

Here for stage wins, my Sunweb team-mates and I had no interest in getting sucked into that battle and coming out of today with nothing to show but sore legs. So our focus turned to getting through the rest of the stage without expending too much energy, in order to have another go tomorrow.

As the pace ramped up, I slowly drifted backwards until I found a little group of 15 riders, which ended up being a group of 10 at the top.

On the descent, we got caught by a group led by almost all of the Ag2r team, nursing their team leader and 2016 runner-up Romain Bardet who had been dropped on the climb, and I was quite happy to have an armchair ride through the valley on the coat tails of the French team.

Simon Yates punches the air as he takes yesterday's stage victory. Photo: JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images
Simon Yates punches the air as he takes yesterday's stage victory. Photo: JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images

The biggest surprise was when the rest of the peloton came back before the bottom of the Tourmalet and our numbers grew to about 100 riders.

On the Tourmalet, I was happy with the tempo Ag2r were setting on the front so I just followed them.

The time cut today was about 30 minutes so I could have eased up a little and still been well inside it, but I found it easier to just sit on the wheels as Bardet's men tapped out a smooth tempo on the front.

Twenty minutes after Thibaut Pinot repaid his team's faith in him with stage victory, my group crossed the line, put on jackets and rode down to the buses where a three-hour transfer awaited.

Tomorrow brings more mountains so I will try to be in the break again.

Sunday July 21, Stage 15: Limoux to Foix (185km)

With three first-category climbs coming in the last 80km of today's stage, nobody was really sure whether a breakaway would stay away to the finish or if the GC contenders would be the ones fighting it out for stage glory.

The plan was to get either myself or Lenny Kamna up the road, and Michael Matthews said he would try and be there to give us a hand.

With two uncategorised hills and a second-category mountain coming in the first 50km, I told the team that I was going to gamble a bit and would only move after 20km, when we hit the first uncategorised climb of the day.

But I got a bit carried away this morning and was jumping into moves way earlier than that.

First, I was in a move with Daniel Oss and two others that lasted about 5km and we got caught at the bottom of the climb where I had originally planned to start attacking

Sitting at the front of the bunch, I was suffering like a dog but kept telling myself "it's going to go, it's going to go..." and I kept following moves, getting caught and attacking again on the next climb, but when I looked around at the top after 39km, my first thoughts were "Oh s**t, it's still together!"

I drifted back on the descent to take a breather and found myself riding beside George Bennett of Jumbo-Visma, who looked back to see nobody behind him.

"Hey, we're at the back," said the Kiwi, "Either there's 50 guys in the break that we didn't see, or there's 50 guys dropped already."

Even with two climbs behind us we had covered 47km in the first hour of racing and there was a huge group containing the king of the mountains Tim Wellens a minute out the back. As we headed towards the second category Col de Montsegur, I heard Nikias Arndt in my earpiece.

"Okay Nico, come on. When you're recovered come back up and give it one last try on the second cat."

Bunch

With the bunch strung out, it took me about 8km to get myself back into position for the 11km climb and I didn't realise that Lenny was already up the road in a group of five and followed a wheel across to them.

There was so much jumping around that I knew something had to give pretty soon and told myself to keep going, even though I was on the limit. "Okay Nico, you're either in the break or the grupetto here!"

When my cousin Dan bridged across to us with a group, I looked around to see Quintana, Yates, Woods, Nibali in the break and knew it wasn't going to be an easy day.

As we got near the top, I could hear Michael in the radio saying: "Nico, I'm in a group 30 seconds behind," so Lenny and I drifted to the back in the hope that he'd get across.

Michael got across with another group swelling our escape group to about 30 riders, but in contrast to the last two breakaways, where everyone went for it and tried to open a big gap on the flat, today was a bit of a mess on the flat, with the group splitting in two or three and everyone still attacking and chasing.

I bridged across to Simon Yates and a new front group of about 10 coming to the first category Port de Lers after 110km. At the bottom of the 12km ascent, Yates accelerated and I went with him with Lutsenko and two of the FDJ guys.

Dan and a few others bridged across before the top and I was feeling relatively okay but there was no breather on the fast descent, where a few little mistakes on corners told me I wasn't quite as alert as I should be and my legs were beginning to ask how they were going to get up the Mur de Peguere 14km later.

The bottom of the Mur was fine but the second we turned onto the steep ramp with 3km to go, the lights went out and I was dropped. As the group rode away, I told myself that maybe I could get back on before the top but there was no chance.

It wasn't lack of food or drink or anything today, I was just a bit over-zealous with the attacks this morning and paid for it later on.

I wanted to get into the break so much that I rode a bit like a junior instead of somebody trying to compete in the Tour de France with the best riders in the world.

At the bottom, I'd heard the peloton were about three minutes behind so I knew they were coming. When they did a few minutes later, I just got out of the way.

I knew if I hung on that all it would do was make me go further into the red, so there was no point.

I was hoping for a big group to catch me but I found myself in a group of three on the descent.

We got caught by about 15 guys at the bottom of the climb to the summit finish, some of whom were riding a bit too hard so I backed off and just rode to the top myself.

I was actually surprised to lose 24 minutes in the last 40km today but I suppose I was trying to save energy thinking of the week ahead and more chances to get in the break.

Up ahead, Lenny fought really well and was only caught by a handful of the GC contenders and took sixth on the stage.

Last week, after Lenny put himself into the red by attacking too much at the start and then getting dropped on the climbs, he asked me how I managed to get into the right breaks.

I laughed and told him it was just old age, but today we swapped roles and he was the smart one, attacking once, getting into the break and staying there to the end. That was a very good ride for a young guy.

After a two-hour bus transfer this morning and five-and-a-half hours on the bike today, we have another three-hour bus transfer this evening.

Tomorrow at least, we have a day off before a tough final week, where our search for a stage win continues.

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