Sunday 25 February 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'For the first time where I haven't crashed, I was forced to climb off'

World champion Peter Sagan of Tinkoff wins his first race in the rainbow jersey by outsprinting his breakaway companions at yesterday’s Gent-Wevelgem one day race in Belgium Photo: Getty
World champion Peter Sagan of Tinkoff wins his first race in the rainbow jersey by outsprinting his breakaway companions at yesterday’s Gent-Wevelgem one day race in Belgium Photo: Getty

Nicolas Roche

Saturday, March 26, Stage 6: Saint Joan Despi to Vilanova i le Geltrú (197km) At the breakfast table this morning we got the news that our sprinter Ben Swift had been sick for most of last night, so after losing Ian Boswell and Geraint Thomas already in this race we began today's penultimate stage with just five riders.

While there were still a few good sprinters left in the race, none of them stood head and shoulders above the other as a favourite for the stage, so it was very difficult to predict what would happen on the undulating road ahead.

With that in mind, our team meeting this morning was pretty much a repeat of the previous day's.

"Okay guys, there is no big sprinter's team here to control the stage and with no more big mountains to change the overall classification, Movistar isn't going to control anything unless somebody close to (Nairo) Quintana gets up the road, so lets see if we can get somebody in the break."

Even with a strong crosswind blowing across the road, an intermediate sprint for time bonuses after just 10km of racing ensured that the stage started absolutely flat out.


Having started the day in fourth place overall, my cousin Dan Martin was 21 seconds off the race lead of Quintana but only four seconds off third-placed Richie Porte of BMC.

As the intermediate sprint approached, though, Dan looked very alert and had his Ettix Quickstep team-mates on the front leading him towards the line.

Even though a lot of his rivals for the overall classification sent their fast men up to make sure he didn't get any time, Dan was good enough to beat them all and took the three seconds time bonus on offer ahead of Porte's team-mate and former world champion Philippe Gilbert, bumping himself up to within one second of a place on the podium.

After 20km or so, the bunch split into three a couple of times in the crosswinds and I found myself struggling on the wrong end of the split both times.

My third regained contact each time but for some reason even sheltering in the wheels of the peloton I could feel there wasn't much left in my legs.

Sometimes after an intermediate sprint there is a little respite which allows a group to go clear but today the attacks kept coming.

It was so fast that nothing managed to stick until 65km into the day's proceedings when 11 riders finally got clear.

With none of our team in the break and no sprinter left to chase for, I could hide out of the wind for a lot of the stage and the escapees built up a five-minute lead before the Lampre team of Italian sprinter Davide Cimolai began to ride at the front of the peloton.

Even though our team was diminished we tried to ride together to keep our best-placed rider Chris Froome, who had begun the day in eighth place overall, out of the wind and out of danger.

I felt very heavy-legged on the second-category ascent of Alt de la Ventoses after 110km and tried to recover until the last 30km or so, where I gave Kiryi (Vasil Kiryinka) a hand to bring Froomey towards the front.

Here Trek Segafredo and IAM Cycling joined the chase and with the breakaway group fracturing up ahead, we could see the last four riders dangling in front of us with 5km to go.

Although we had nobody in the move, I felt sorry for Dimension Data's Cameron Meyer when I saw the replay of the finish on the bus. After spending most of the day out front he was caught just 75 metres from the line and the Lampre squad's faith in Cimolai was repaid when he took the stage win.

Sunday, March 27, Stage 7: Barcelona to Barcelona (136km)

With the clocks going forward last night, I woke up this morning feeling like I had jet lag.

Even though I'm an early bird, today's final stage started earlier, which meant I was up at 7.0 which to me was really 6.0 old time.

I dragged myself down to breakfast and afterwards boarded the bus for the one-hour drive to the start, where I was greeted by my Nana Roche, my auntie Maria and Dan's fiancée Jessica.

I hadn't seen them since my wedding so it was nice to be able to sit and chat for ten minutes before getting ready for the stage.

Since I was a kid, my granny has always kept up the tradition of buying me an Easter egg. I used to get three when I was little but now that I'm older, and shouldn't be really eating chocolate, she presented me with a little Cadbury's crème egg before the start.

Delighted with my little chocolate gift, I stashed it in my kit bag to savour after the stage before lining up for the start.

Based in and around Barcelona, today's stage began with a big loop of 80km which contained a second- and third-category climb before we hit the finishing circuit.

To be covered eight times, this tough little lap contained the short steep climb of Montjuic and we reckoned it would be here that the stage would be decided.

With the race start and finish based in the city centre, the amount of kerbs, ramps and bollards on the route was unbelievable today and a lot of my Easter Sunday was spent bunny-hopping over traffic calming strips, tram lines and cats eyes.

In the opening kilometres, a cloud of dust a few places ahead of me alerted me to the fact that somebody had hit the deck.

A second or two later, I flashed past a rider who had been catapulted over the handlebars and was lying on the grass, with his bike caught on top of a green traffic bollard nearby.

Another intermediate sprint after 10km today saw the pace high from the start again and in the gallop to the line, Dan managed to claim third and the one-second time bonus he needed to leapfrog Richie Porte into third place overall.

As a group of 12 fought to go clear over the second-category Alt de l'Ulastrell and the third-category Alt de Corbrera about 40km into the race, I knew I wasn't on a good day.

In fact, I knew I was struggling. I hung on and helped the lads into position as we approached the finishing circuit after 85km but from there on I was going backwards and digging my own grave.

Froomey had said this morning that as he had nothing to lose he wanted to give it a go on the final laps of the finishing circuit.

By the time he jumped away from the peloton on the climb with 18km to, I was beginning to come around but was in no position to help him as I was sitting on the team bus watching his attack on the big screen.

Today was a tough day in the saddle for me and for only the second time in three years - and the first time where I haven't crashed, I climbed off before the end of today's stage.

Being off the bike due to two spider bites during the winter, I did a lot of work to get back to racing early but maybe I rushed it a little and I'm paying for it a bit now.

We were supposed to fly home tomorrow but as one of the team carers lives in Nice I'm getting a lift with him today instead.

It's a six-hour drive, but at least I'll get to spend Easter with my family at home, where I'll have a week to recover before heading off to altitude training camp with the team ahead of my next race, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, in April.

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