Wednesday 21 March 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'Guys, I'm coming back. My headset's loose'

Chris Froome wearing the Tour de France overall leader's yellow jersey
Chris Froome wearing the Tour de France overall leader's yellow jersey

Nicolas Roche

Tuesday, July 14 - Stage 10: Tarbes to Saint-Pierre Martin (167km)

The climbs on the Tour de France were originally categorised according to which gear the organiser's car would need to be in to get over them, with a fourth-category climb meaning it could be driven in fourth gear and first gear required to get up the steepest first-category gradient.

Since then, the Tour has added another category for climbs deemed long enough and steep enough to be 'hors category' or 'out of category' and today's finish at the ski station in La Pierre-Saint-Martin was the first such climb on this Tour.

With three fourth-category climbs to tackled before then, our job was to try and control the early attacks and make sure nobody who was a threat in the overall standings, or nobody who could become a threat in the overall standings, got clear.

Unless there was a potential GC rider in the early move, my Sky team-mates and I planned to let it go and control the peloton at our own pace.

Strongman Ian 'Yogi' Stannard, Pete Kennaugh and myself tried to chase down the bigger, more dangerous groups in the first 15km or so before two lower-placed French riders eventually went clear.

Happy enough to let them go and not too worried if they stayed away to the end and contested the stage win between them, Yogi and Luke Rowe then set about controlling the tempo on the front of the peloton and the gap to the duo began to slowly open.


After about 20km, I could feel that the part of my bike connecting the handlebar stem to the frame had come loose so I squeezed the little microphone button inside my jersey and radioed back to the guys in the team car to let them know I'd be dropping back.

"Guys, I'm coming back to you. My headset is loose."

"Okay Nico."

I put my hand in the air to let the riders around me know I had a problem and began drifting back towards the rear of the peloton before stopping at the side of the road to wait for our mechanic to arrive in the team car.

As we sometimes have problems with the team radios, though, when I said my headset was loose the guys in the team car thought I meant that the wire from my radio to my earpiece had come loose so they hadn't expected me to stop.

Our radios are situated high up our backs in a slim pocket inside the straps of our bib shorts, and fixing them usually involves the mechanic hanging out the window of the car and reaching up under the back of your jersey to reconnect the wires, change batteries or change the channels on the move.

Thinking I had a radio problem, the guys didn't have the tools ready to fix the headset on my bike, so I remounted and rode back to the rear of the bunch again until they called me back. With Luke and Yogi setting a very steady tempo at the front, there was no panic and a few minutes later I stopped again.

This time, after a few tweaks of a headset spanner, I was back on the road with a few extra bottles on board to give to the lads up front.

With no interest in catching the two escapees, we let the gap grow to around 15 minutes until, after about 60km, the Movistar team of Spanish national champion Alejandro Valverde (7th) and Colombian climber and pre-race favourite Nairo Quintana (9th) came up and began to up the pace.

The French FDJ team joined them on the front in the last 55km or so, where a tailwind and some hard riding cut the break's advantage to less than a minute as we approached the 20km climb to the hors category summit finish.

There was a bit of fighting for position by the teams of the overall contenders as we neared the bottom and we were caught on the inside of the peloton behind the FDJ and Movistar squads.

There was a lot of pushing and shoving but the rise in gradient soon saw some of the guys that had been on the front drift back and Luke led us into the climb behind Movistar with Wout Poels, Geraint Thomas, Richie Porte and myself still with Chris Froome (below).

I was a little bit further back than the others and as Movistar were beginning to run out of men with about 13km to go, I made a little effort to come up alongside Froomey in case I was needed to ride.

But he told me to relax and save myself for the next two days, so that's what I did.

With Wout, Richie and G all ready to ride, there was no point in me killing myself to stay there if I didn't need to, and with plenty more hard days to come, it was better to try and save energy and ride to the summit at my own pace.

When I eased off the pedals, I began to drift back through riders who were still trying to hang on.

When anyone who was still trying to minimise their losses and hold onto a decent position in the overall standings eventually passed me, I found myself climbing alongside Dutchman Bob Jungels of Trek and Spaniard Alberto Losada of Katusha.

Up ahead, Wout's pace was beginning to shell guys out the back door of the front group of about 15 riders and in my earpiece I could hear our directeur sportif Nicolas Portal telling the guys that French duo Thibaut Pinot and Warren Barguil had been dropped.

Then the bigger names started coming.

"Nibali is gone... Uran is gone... Rodriguez is gone."

Still, though, second placed Tejay Van Garderen hung on, along with Quintana and his Movistar team-mate Valverde.

When Wout had done his turn, Valverde attacked a couple of times to try and soften Froomey up, but on both occasions G just rode him down before continuing his turn on the front, with Richie and Froomey tucked in behind him.

Then Richie took over with 7km to go and blew the group apart.

"Contador is gone. . . "

Van Garderen was added to the list 500m later. By that stage only Quintana was left with Richie and Froomey at the head of the race before an attack by Froomey with 6.5km to go saw him ride away and win the stage, consolidating his hold on the yellow jersey.


Richie even managed to get around Quintana to take the six seconds time bonus on offer for second place, 59 seconds later, while G crossed the line in sixth.

All in all, it's been a good day for the team, with Froomey putting in a great ride to distance all of his rivals by the finish and it was great to see Richie complete the one-two.

Richie was world No 1 for the first few months of the year but because he had a bad Giro everybody seems to have forgotten him.

He proved today that he's still one of the best climbers in the world, while G just confirmed the class he has always exuded by moving into fifth place overall.

In the last 3km I let the guys I was with ride off and eased my way to the top, finishing 13'51" down, but hopefully saving my legs for the next couple of hard days in the Pyrenees.

Froomey now has a lead of 2'52" on Van Garderen, with Quintana third at 3'09" and Valverde, Contador and Nibali all over four minutes down.

After today's result, a lot of GC contenders have lost time so I expect there will be plenty of attacks to be covered in the next couple of days.

Tour de France, Eurosport 12.45 /TG4 1.10/ ITV4 1.0

Irish Independent

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