Friday 14 December 2018

Nicolas Roche Diary: 'My shorts ripped and there was blood streaming down my left leg'

Nicolas Roche's Giro d’Italia Diary: Day six: Sassano to Montecassino (257km)

Nicolas Roche after his fall
Nicolas Roche after his fall
Michael Matthews celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Giro d'Italia.

Nicolas Roche

HAVING set my alarm for 6.45 this morning, I woke up a bit earlier than expected when the fire alarm went off in the hotel at 6.20. There's nothing like all of the lights coming on and the sound of alarm bells to make you sit up in bed and take notice.

I reckon it's a system that could be deployed in many an Irish teenager's bedroom during the summer holidays.

When we got to the start this morning we were greeted with the news that a landslide on the early part of the course meant we would have to take a detour after the start and that the longest stage of this year's Giro would now be increased by 10km to 257km, or a whopping 160 miles.

Not surprisingly, when four Italians disappeared up the road into a headwind with about 247 of those kilometres left, there wasn't much interest in chasing them.

Even though this quartet got over 12 minutes by the time we hit the 60km mark, when a couple of guys began to up the pace at the front of the peloton later on, their advantage soon came down and it was clear they wouldn't stay away to the finish.

Although we had nice weather for most of today's stage, the rain started to come down again with about 30km to go, just as things began to hot up at the front of the bunch.

With the stage ending on the 8km second-category climb to Montecassino, a lot of teams began to merge at the front in an effort to get their team leaders into a good position at the foot of the climb.

My Wicklow-born team-mate Chris-Juul Jensen rode flat out into the headwind, with Rafal Majka and myself in his slipstream, and most of the other GC contenders' teams did the same alongside us with 20km to go.

Having caught the breakaway with eight kilometres to go, the BMC team of second-placed Cadel Evans really upped the pace. A couple of kilometres before the bottom of the climb, however, just heading into a big roundabout, there was a massive crash.

We must have been doing 60kph and the whole thing happened so fast I didn't even have time to think about touching my brakes, never mind actually trying to use them.

I think some guys tried to go around the roundabout on the left but realised there was an island in the middle blocking their path. Once one went down, half the peloton went down.

I don't know who hit the deck first because I couldn't see much with the spray coming up from the wheels.

Soon, I was sliding along the ground on my side and heading for the kerb of the roundabout, with my bike in close proximity.

Luckily, just before I came into contact with the kerb, I sort of bounced and rolled over it, coming to a halt on the grass. Others were not so lucky, with Katusha rider Giampaolo Caruso put in a neck brace and ambulanced to hospital with a suspected broken femur.


My team-mates Rafal and Pawel Poljanski had crashed too and soon there was total mayhem on the road, with mechanics running with wheels, riders lying on the ground and bikes everywhere.

I stood up in the middle of the road and pulled my bike out of the melee as my young Aussie team-mate Jay McCarthy pushed Rafal off, having given him his spare bike.

My shorts were ripped and there was blood streaming down my left leg as I stuck my front wheel in between my legs to twist my handlebars back into the centre. Jay and Ivan Rovny stayed with me and, when I remounted, they rode the last 9km to the top of the climb alongside me.

As my bike was damaged in the crash, I changed onto my spare bike about 5km from the top, and seven hours after getting on my bike this morning, I crossed the line 15 minutes down on the stage winner and overall leader Michael Matthews.

I rode straight to the ambulance parked just past the finish line but it was so disorganised I decided it would be better to go to the hotel and let the team doctor clean me up.

While I have plenty of skin off my arse, knee and elbow, that's all to be expected. When I look back to what happened my cousin Dan in Belfast, I know I could have come off a lot worse – there's nothing broken and I will be able to race again tomorrow.

While losing 15 minutes today means the dream of a high overall placing is gone, I've been looking forward to riding this Giro for the past five months and know that in a couple of days, when the swelling goes down a bit, I can change my goals and target a stage win instead.

In the past, the fact I've been highly placed on GC has meant the overall contenders were wary of me going up the road in a breakaway. Now that I'm 15 minutes down, I will have a bit of leeway.

I still think my condition is pretty good. Okay, I won't be chasing the pink jersey any more, but every cloud has a silver lining and things could work out to my advantage yet.



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