Friday 24 November 2017

Nicolas Roche: Building up to this race gives me goosebumps

My aim this year is different – everything I do will be to help Contador win

Making some adjustments to my bike under the watchful eye of one the Saxo mechanics prior to today's Tour de France start
Making some adjustments to my bike under the watchful eye of one the Saxo mechanics prior to today's Tour de France start

Nicolas Roche

Friday, June 28

One day to go – Corsica

This year's 100th edition of the Tour de France begins with three days of racing on the island of Corsica. Although we arrived on one of the most scenic places in Europe on Wednesday, by Thursday morning we hadn't much time to appreciate it.

An 8.0 pre-tour medical was followed by a team press conference at 10.0. While our Spanish team leader and previous winner Alberto Contador spoke to the world's media in the hotel, the rest of us hung around outside on the terrace, where we later gave a few soundbites to a handful of interested journalists.

Afterwards, we checked out our brand new Tour de France bikes before going training. While the mechanics did a great job to build 20 bikes from scratch in just two days, it's not unusual for your saddle height or handlebar length to be out by a millimetre or two on a new machine, and when you're going to spend almost 90 hours in the saddle over the next three weeks, it's important to have everything spot on.

After fiddling around with an Allen key for a couple of minutes, we headed off for a two-and-a-half-hour spin around the island, some of which we spent on our time-trial machines. Corsica is pretty spectacular, with the bay and hotel we're staying at in Porto Vecchio especially breathtaking. We were here back in February for a five-day training camp so we've seen most of the roads, except stage three's route, but Mick Rogers and a few of the guys rode the route at Criterium International, so we will rely on them for info on Monday.

PINCH

The fashion of having 30kph zones on the edge of every small town in Europe seems to have caught on here, though, and there are a lot of pinch points and traffic-calming measures on the seafront and main road where the road narrows in suddenly. The roads here are pretty good but they have very heavy traffic on them, so if it rains, like it did on our spin this morning, there could be a bit of oil on the roads which would make it very slippery.

After a shower, lunch and massage, it was time for the riders' briefing, which consists of talks on anti-doping, road safety, pollution and the technical aspects of the race. Every year, though, when they show you that highlights clip from the previous year on the big screen, it really gives you goosebumps and lets you know you are about to start the biggest race in the world.

After all 219 starters had their photos individually taken, we rolled down into the port, hopped onto a boat and travelled across the bay for the team presentation on the other side.

Everything went pretty smoothly until long-time race announcer Daniel Mangeas called up our Danish rider Nicki Sorenson, who is not riding this year. In fairness, Daniel, who is cycling's answer to Jimmy Magee, had been given a wrong start sheet and as Matteo Tossatto was the one left over, we immediately started calling him Nicki for the rest of the day.

Having come into the past three Tours de France aiming to save energy on the flat and hang on as much as I could in the mountains – to finish high up the general classification – this year my focus is different.

This year I have no personal ambitions. My Saxo-Tinkoff team has put everything on winning the Tour with Contador and I am here to help.

We have a really strong team here, including Italian sprinter Daniele Bennati, who has won stages in all three Grand Tours; Roman Kreuziger, who won Amstel Gold this year; Spanish climbers Bejamin Noval and Jesus Hernandez, Portuguese Tour stage winner Sergio Paulinho, Australia's Rogers, who won the Tour with Bradley Wiggins last year at Sky and Tossatto, who has ridden no less than 27 Grand Tours.

Although Sky's Chris Froome is the outstanding favourite, I think Alberto can win the Tour this year. Everyone on the team believes he can win it and we're all 100pc ready to help him. It's not going to be easy for him, or us. Even though I'm not riding for myself, the pressure is actually enormous. It's the same for all of the riders, mechanics and staff.

If I'm not capable of doing my job right, it will be just as bad as not being able to finish in the top 10 when I was riding for myself. I'm not really sure of my role yet but I'm just going to do whatever I'm told to do and hopefully everything will go right. If I can do that, it will be a good Tour for me. I'll have played a part in something big, had an input on the outcome of the race, made it exciting and had a key role in the mountain stages.

If there's an opportunity at some point that I can try to take or that I am allowed to take, then obviously I will try to make the most of it, but in my mind I am here as a helper and I will get my chance later on in the year. My personal ambition is to do my job as best I can so everyone is happy and to be able to play a role in those key moments in the mountains.

With no prologue time trial this year, the opening day definitely looks like a sprinter's dream. Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel, Marcel Kittel, Matt Goss, maybe even Peter Sagan, can win the first stage and take yellow. Cav is in top form having won the British championships from a breakaway on a pretty bumpy course last week. Greipel and Sagan also won their nationals. A surprise from some other team could always snatch victory, but these are the favourites.

The goal for my Saxo-Tinkoff team over the first three days is not to lose time and to arrive at the team time trial in Nice on Tuesday with maximum energy.

People often ask if the route this year suits me or not. For the guys in with a chance of winning overall, whether there is a longer time trial or a shorter one, more mountains or less mountains, might make a difference, but for the other 90pc of the peloton, it doesn't really matter. Every stage is hard. But it's the Tour de France. It's supposed to be hard.

Irish Independent

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