Wednesday 24 January 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'Changing bikes inmiddle of time trial was first'

Saturday June 15, Stage 8: Zernez – Bad Ragaz 180.5km

Nicolas Roche Photo: Getty Images
Nicolas Roche Photo: Getty Images

With a first category climb coming after 40km, there were loads of guys warming up this morning, which is always a sure sign of a fast start.

The last chance to win a road stage before Sunday's final time trial, the beginning of today's stage could have been mayhem, but when we rolled out of the neutralised section and the flag was dropped, everybody started shouting "easy, easy" so I guess mine weren't the only tired legs this morning.

The main thing for the GC contenders was to try to save energy ahead of the time trial. So when four guys jumped clear, nobody reacted. They rode off and we just settled into a steady tempo behind them.

There was a lot of accelerating and slowing down all day today which sometimes hurts the legs more than a really flat-out stage. If nobody really knew who was fresh and who was tired, the only other climb on the day's profile, the third category summit which came just 5km from the finish, would soon let us know.

With about 30km to go things started to get nervous again and the pace really went up on the climb itself. I was expecting it to be short and steep but it was pretty long and draggy and with Garmin Sharp's David Millar on the front doing a huge turn for his team leader, my cousin Dan Martin, we really flew up it. Millar did about five minutes flat out and by the time my team-mate Oliver Zaugg took over near the top a lot of riders were gone out the back door and the rest of us were on our limit.

Liquigas sprinter Peter Sagan was always going to be one of the favourites for a finish like today but I was hoping one of our two sprinters could get up on the stage. I was expecting Matti Breschel, who is the better climber of the two, to be the one to do it but was pleasantly surprised when I saw Daniele Bennati come past me on the descent.

With 2km to go I hit the front in an effort to keep the speed up for the sprint. I wanted to stop any other sprinters getting back on to our group, which had been whittled down to about 20 riders, and also deter any last-minute attacks. The team has been riding really well together this week and the atmosphere has been great, so it was nice to be able to do something for Benna today. As I drifted back into the wheels in the final kilometre, Benna was in a nice position as the sprint began and only Sagan beat him to the line.

We've been fighting for the overall with Roman Kreuziger all week so it was nice to get a second place on a stage today. Although Benna didn't get his stage win, to get beaten by Sagan, who I think is one the best riders of his generation, is nothing to be ashamed of.

Sunday June 16, Stage 9: Bad Ragaz – Flumserberg 26.8km Individual Time Trial

While today's time trial was Roman's last chance to win this Tour de Suisse, I also wanted to ride as hard as I could in the race against the clock.

I'm not a TT specialist but I'm working hard on it, so every chance I get to do one flat out is important. Plus, having begun the day in 13th overall, it would be very unprofessional of me to sit up on the last day.

While out warming up on the course this morning, we decided it would be a good idea to change from a time trial bike to a road bike for the second part of the course, which was all uphill. As I've never done a bike change during a time trial before, we practiced it a couple of times this morning.

During the stage, I kept a pretty good rhythm on the first part of the course, which was pure flat valley road, and caught the guy who had started a minute ahead of me pretty quickly.

When you're changing bikes in a time trial, the spare bike has to be on the car before the change and the team car is not allowed to overtake you, so I had to stop and wait for the bike to be handed to me about 800m up the climb. I hopped on, the mechanic gave me a shove and away I went.

With my new bike already in the right gear, I settled into a good rhythm again on the first few metres of the climb and my mechanic already had a half-full bottle on the spare bike with an energy gel taped to it for the second half of the race.

The change was pretty smooth. You lose 10 or 12 seconds but on a 10km-long climb with an average gradient of 9pc, and 12pc ramps on it, I would have lost a lot more had I stayed on the time trial bike.

I was going well again until about 3km to go, where I completely ran out of steam. Having tried to keep my power output between 400 and 420 watts, I was suddenly down to 350. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't do any more and finished 24th on the stage, 2.13 behind stage winner and overall winner Rui Costa of Movistar.

At the top, I turned around, rode back down the descent and, at the bottom, hopped into a car with Matti and headed for the airport.

Roman could only manage seventh on the stage but held on to his third place overall, while my cousin Dan put in another good ride to finish eighth overall. This week we had a great group of guys who worked very well together and while you go into every race to win, it's not very often that happens and you have to be happy with third.

With two weeks to go to the Tour de France, it's time for a few days rest now.

Irish Independent

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