Nicolas Roche: 'I almost caught a cold off the breeze of Yates going past'
Tour de France Diary: Thursday, July 18 - Stage 12: Toulouse to Bagnères-de-Bigorre (209.5km)
With a 130km run-in to the first climb of the day today, my Sunweb team-mates and I were ready for a big fight to get into the breakaway and were pretty active in a blistering first hour of racing that saw 50km covered.
After a while I could see that the same guys were going over and over again and I knew a lot of people were starting to tire and a lot more had given up trying to go clear.
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I bridged across to Simon Clarke after about 40km, where another eight riders, including our sprinter Michael Matthews, joined us up front. With two guys in the escape group of ten, I was delighted and didn't expect another 32 riders, including Nikias and Cees, to join us a few minutes later.
As we rode together to open a gap, I realised that all of the sprinters were in there too. The intermediate sprint points after 103km were one explanation for that, but I suspected most of them wanted to get a head start on the mountains just in case the GC guys blew the peloton to bits behind.
With most of the sprinters sitting up as we hit the Col du Peyresourde straight after the intermediate sprint, our team had two options: let the expected attacks go and continue to ride as normal in the hope it would come back together before the last climb with 35km to go, or set a tempo that would keep things together until then.
Choosing the latter, Cees and Nikias did a lot of riding to open a gap and deter attacks so that Michael and I could attack on the last climb.
After a while, Michael said he wasn't having the best of days and said he just wanted to ride on the front and try and help me go for the stage.
Michael set a really good pace for the last 2km of the climb where the Lotto guys rode to get more mountains points for Tim Wellens and we all went over together.
Aussie Simon Clarke attacked on the descent and Matteo Trentin of Mitchelton-Scott joined him 5km from the top of the 10km-long Hourquette d'Ancizan with about 40km to go.
Michael set the tempo behind for as long as he could in the hope that when the attacks came I would try to follow them.
Ag2r's Mattias Frank and Gregor Muhlberger of Bora were first to go halfway up and I went across to them but when British rider Simon Yates countered us I nearly caught a cold from the breeze off him going past.
With Clarke dropped and Yates jumping across to his team-mate Trentin up ahead, there was a stall before Muhlbergher and Pelo Bilbao of Astana jumped clear.
As our group slowed, I tried to counter-attack but was brought back and settled in for the chase on the 30km descent to he finish, which didn't go as well as I'd hoped.
Trentin and Emanuel Buchmannn weren't going to ride after their team-mates and sat at the back, but I was livid with the Ag2r duo of Tony Gallopin and Mattias Frank who didn't seem to want to contribute either.
When we got caught by Dylan Teuns and a guy from Trek halfway down, I still thought we had a chance to catch the three leaders as Dylan is a great time triallist but the trio up front were flying and actually put a minute into our six-man group on the descent.
With 4km to go, I got info on the radio that another seven guys were coming across to us, including some faster guys and my heart sank.
"Nico just try to go early in the sprint," came the call from our DS.
I did, but I died with about 150 metres to go and finished 15th on the stage.
The guys did such a good job for me today that I was really disappointed when I crossed the line.
Physically, I wasn't at the level of the first three guys on the climb today but 15th doesn't reflect the way we rode or the effort the guys put in for me.
It comes down to narrow margins here. I feel I rode well today but in the end I got nothing for it.
Tour de France, Live , Eurosport/TG4, 12.50