Monday 11 December 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'I aquaplaned through the corner on my ribs before spinning on the tarmac'

Tour de France Diary

The peloton wind up for the sprint finish into Liege yesterday. Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images
The peloton wind up for the sprint finish into Liege yesterday. Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Saturday July 1, Stage 1: Individual Time Trial Dusseldorf (14km)

At breakfast this morning I had a bit of a chat with my young Swiss team-mate Stefan Kung ahead of today's opening time trial stage.

Stefan is only 23 but just last week won the Swiss national time trial championships.

He's been in really good form lately so I tried to impress on him the fact that, even though he has never ridden the Tour before, he had a great chance of donning the yellow jersey after today's stage.

"This is a massive opportunity for you," I told him. "It's your first Tour de France but you're one of the favourites and you could be in yellow at the end of the day. That doesn't happen too often so make sure you do your recon ride properly, make sure you do your warm-up properly and really try to make the most of today."

Afterwards I opted for an hour on the home trainer after breakfast as it was pelting down outside.

After a pasta and omelette lunch at 12.30, my team-mates and I left for the start village, where we had a choice of two time slots to ride the course before the stage began.

Myself and Damiano Caruso went off in the second time slot and got two full laps of the course in by the end of it so I had a good feel for it by the time I started at 4.38pm.

As my team leader Richie Porte didn't start until an hour an a half later, he sat in the passenger seat of the team car behind me as I rolled down the start ramp.

With the rain pelting down, the road was very slippery and I was wary of taking the corners too hard. Rather than trying to impress Richie with a fast time, I didn't want to scare him or put him off his ride by coming down in the last shower.

Unfortunately though, that's exactly what happened when my back wheel slid out on a right hander with tram tracks across it after about 7km.

I aquaplaned through the corner on my ribs before spinning on the tarmac and ending up sitting facing the team car behind me.

I was really pissed off with myself because I hadn't been taking any risks and I knew that me crashing in front of Richie wasn't the ideal picture for him to have in his head before he started his ride.

After that, I took it very safely to the line and finished in a time of 17'18", a minute and 14 seconds slower than stage winner Geraint Thomas of Sky.

After seeing me fall, Richie was a bit concerned about following suit and took no risks on his own ride to finish 47 seconds down in 49th place.

He lost 35 seconds to defending champion Chris Froome but after watching numerous others hit the tarmac and overall contenders Alejandro Valverde and Jon Izaguirre leave the race with a broken kneecap and broken back respectively, I think his approach was the right one.

Stefan on the other hand, threw caution to the wind and was just one second off the fastest time at the intermediate time check.

By the finish, the gap had grown to five seconds but his time was still good enough for second place on the stage and he now leads the young rider classification.

Although I knew Geraint would be up there today I didn't really expect him to win the stage.

G's a friend of mine and I know he's been dreaming of that yellow jersey for years so it's nice to see him finally get it.

I think today showed he's on top form after crashing out of the Giro in May so we'll have to add him to our list of rivals now.

Sunday July 2, Stage 2: Dusseldorf to Liege (202km)

At the entrance to the stage-start car park every day, each team gets a big envelope handed in through the window of their team bus.

Inside, along with the previous day's results, are the stickers for the team car and our race numbers for the stage.

As leading rider under 25, Stefan was also given a little backpack containing three white leader's jerseys in short sleeve, long sleeve and sleeveless gilet form this morning.

When the bus pulls in, the first thing we do is have a 10 minute slot to talk to the media if required. After that we have our pre-stage team meeting where we decide on our course of action for the day. This can last anything from 15 minutes to half an hour depending on the importance of the stage or the amount of details we have to cover.

Today we watched a video of the cobbled sections in the last 10km before heading to sign-on.

The sign-on is a great way for fans to get to see every rider in the race before the stage, although if it's raining most of us have to be herded off the buses in the last minutes before the start.

This year, perhaps to avoid that last-minute rush, the Tour has split the sign-on into two time slots, one for us mere mortals and then another later one for the Tour stars.

Only designated riders can sign-on in the second time slot; the yellow, green, white and polka-dot jersey wearers, the stars of the previous stage, the leading team and the 'heroes of the Tour', which meant that Stefan and our Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet signed on after the rest of the team.

When four guys went clear from the gun this morning, the flat route ahead and anticipated bunch sprint finish tempted the sprint teams of Lotto, Quickstep and Dimension Data to take control at the front of the peloton and keep them on a short leash of around three minutes for most of the day.

A heavy rain shower saw me drift down the bunch to give myself some room to put my arm warmers back on with around 30 km to go as the rest of the guys moved Richie a little closer to the front ahead of the finale. Just as I rolled my second arm warmer back up and tucked it under my jersey sleeve, we came off a slipway and into a tight right-hander where there was a huge crash at the front of the peloton.

One of the Katusha-Alpecin guy's wheels had skidded out from under him in the wet as he rounded the corner in third place and he brought down the next ten or 11 guys, including Richie and most of my BMC team-mates, as well as French favourite Romain Bardet, race leader Thomas, Froome and a few of the Sky guys.

Quickstep's Philippe Gilbert, who is from the area, told me afterwards that he expected something to happen at that particular corner as it's notorious for car crashes due to oil spillages from trucks coming off the motorway.

As I weaved through a second crash caused by guys braking to avoid the first one, Richie had just picked himself up off the ground.

Although his handlebars were bent from the impact, he felt it was a bit close to the finish to change bikes so he just remounted and kept going in the slipstream of Alesandro De Marchi and I, and he regained contact after about 2km of chasing. We stayed near the front with him until about 5km to go. With a pretty straight-forward finish and the new three-second time-gap rule in place, we opted to stay in the middle of the bunch rather than mix it with the sprinters in the last few kilometres, crossing the line in the same time as stage winner Marcel Kittel of Quickstep.

Tour de France, Stage 3, Live Eurosport, TG4 and ITV4, from 11.0

Froome crashes as Kittel strikes

Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas were grateful to emerge with little more than bumps and bruises from a crash as Marcel Kittel won stage two of the Tour de France in Liege.

Froome was one of several general classification hopefuls to fall in soaking wet conditions around 30km from the finish of the 203.5km stage from Dusseldorf, and Team Sky team-mate Thomas also went down in the yellow jersey.

They would all get back to the peloton before German Kittel of Quick-Step Floors won in a bunch sprint, while Thomas finished safely in the pack to retain the overall lead he took with Saturday's time trial win.

Team Sky's Froome appeared to be the first to hit the deck but several followed, with the peloton going at full speed.

"No injuries, thankfully," Froome said. "I just lost a little bit of skin on my backside, but yeah, that's the nature of the race, we knew there were slippery conditions.

"Every time you put the race numbers on you know there's a big risk"

Kittel won ahead of FDJ's French sprinter Arnaud Demare and Lotto-Soudal's German Andre Greipel, while Mark Cavendish (Team Dimension Data) was fourth - an encouraging result following his long illness.

American Taylor Phinney, son of cycling Olympic medallists Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter-Phinney, took the first polka dot jersey of the race after spending the day in the breakaway.

Irish Independent

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