Thursday 19 September 2019

Nicolas Roche: 'All I care about here is the team plan to try and win a stage'

Tour de France Diary: Wednesday, July 17 – Stage 11: Albi to Toulouse (167km)

Team Sunweb rider Nicolas Roche is behind Lotto Soudal rider Tiesj Benoot of Belgium during the 170.5-km Tour de France Stage 9 from Saint-Etienne to Brioude. Photo: Reuters/Christian Hartmann
Team Sunweb rider Nicolas Roche is behind Lotto Soudal rider Tiesj Benoot of Belgium during the 170.5-km Tour de France Stage 9 from Saint-Etienne to Brioude. Photo: Reuters/Christian Hartmann

Nicolas Roche

A late start this afternoon meant that it felt like we had a rest day and a half and it was nice to be able to relax in the hotel this morning for a few hours before having to get ready for the stage start.

Today the team plan was a little bit different than it has been on the other sprint stages.

Instead of going for the sprint with our Aussie fast man Michael Matthews, we decided to give our young Dutch sprinter Cees Bol a chance to go for a stage win.

Cees is only 23 and riding his first Tour de France but he’s already shown how fast he is this year with wins at the Belgian semi-classic Nokere-Koerse and stages at the Tours of California and Norway. Michael is stronger on a slightly uphill finish but today’s pan-flat finish suited Cees more, so it was a no-brainer.

Today's profile made for the perfect restart to the Tour, the flat opening kilometres seeing a four-man break go clear and the peloton easing back into racing as the day went on. As the quartet began to build up a lead, I exchanged notes with French rider Tony Gallopin of Ag2r for a while about what we did on yesterday’s rest day.

Over the years, we’ve both tried numerous things on a rest day to be ready for the resumption of racing the next day but the truth is you never really know how you’re going to feel the next day.

Sometimes I’ve overeaten out of boredom and felt heavy-legged the next day, sometimes I haven’t eaten enough and felt weak the next day. I’ve done three-hour spins, one-hour spins, indoor spins, outdoor spins over the years to try and be ready to race again the next day.

There's nothing worse than having a huge mountain stage after a day off, especially one where the racing starts from the gun and the GC contenders are all attacking each other, or even an individual time trial where you have to ride flat out from start to finish.

But the reality is the riders decide how much it’s going to hurt.

Thankfully, there was no big chase this morning, no counter-attacks and we settled into a steady pace for a couple of hours and eased ourselves back in.

There were crosswinds again today though, which made the final 50km or so quite stressful and a big crash claimed Niki Terpstra of Total Direct Energie with about 30km to go.

For us, Cees was caught up in the crash and had to change a broken wheel. As the rest of us stayed in position with Michael near the front in case we had to revert to Plan B, Chad Haga waited with Cees and helped him get back on. My job was to ride on the front in the last 30km or so and make sure the guys were able to stay up near the front in the drag race towards the finish.

After that, I swung off in the last 3km and rolled in to the line in an effort to save my energy for another attempt at getting into the breakaway in the coming days.

After drifting back on a drag, Cees was a little far back with just over two kilometres to go, fought his way back up but didn’t start the sprint from a perfect position, finishing eighth on the stage.

While the team haven’t been focused on the green jersey competition at all here, Michael’s consistency in the sprint finishes and the intermediate sprints in the first 11 days meant that he began today in second place in the points classification, which is led by Peter Sagan of Bora-Hansgrohe.

With 50 points on offer for each stage winner and 20 for the winner of each intermediate sprint every day, Michael was just 67 points behind Sagan this morning – which meant there was no chance of him getting into a breakaway without Bora bringing him back or the green-clad Sagan going with him.

Although his lead-out role today meant he finished outside the points, drifting down to fourth in the competition, the silver lining is that he might get a bit more freedom to get into a breakaway and go for a stage win in the next week.

It’s a strange thing for me, but this year is the first time I've ridden a Grand Tour and not really looked at the classification every day.

Usually, I would look up the results on the bus after every stage, see who’s behind me, who’s in front and what the gaps are, but I haven’t looked at the results or even watched some of the finishes here this year because it doesn’t affect me any more.

I heard Caleb Ewan won today as I crossed the line, and I know Alaphilippe is still in yellow but I couldn't tell you the time gaps or anything. I've a job to do here and that’s all I’m really concerned with.

It doesn't matter if I lose 20 seconds or 20 minutes on any given stage, once I'm able to do my job again the next day. All I care about here is the team plan to try and win a stage and my job within that plan.

That job starts again tomorrow.

Tour de France, Live, TG4, 1.10/Eurosport 1, 10.0

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