Sunday 25 August 2019

Nicolas Roche: 'I don't think many expected the wind to have such a big impact'

Tour de France Diary: Monday, July 15 - Stage 10: Saint Flour to Albi (218km)

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) beating Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick Step) in a sprint finish to take yesterday's stage. Photo: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) beating Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick Step) in a sprint finish to take yesterday's stage. Photo: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Nicolas Roche

After being in the breakaway all day yesterday, I was pretty tired last night and hungrier than usual.

Our team chef had made us a nice three-course meal as usual, so he was a bit bemused when I went into the kitchen afterwards and asked him if he'd make me a bowl of pasta.

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At first he thought I was pulling his leg because I've never asked him to make anything extra before.

"Did you try the chicken? Did you not like it?" he asked when he realised I was serious.

"No, no, I ate everything you gave me! I'm just hungry after today."

With a full belly, I slept well last night but an earlier start than usual this morning meant I was still a bit fatigued at breakfast.

I spent the longest transfer of the Tour so far watching the James Bond movie 'Spectre' on the team bus to kill the journey to the stage start.

As we got ready for the stage, we all agreed that there were a lot of different things that could happen on today's route, which had two climbs in the first 20km and another two along the way. We were hoping there would be a long battle for the breakaway on the opening two climbs - which would sap the legs of our sprint rivals if it came to a sprint later on, but a six-man group went clear without much delay or reaction.

As they opened a gap, Michael Matthews asked us if we should counter-attack and try to make the race hard again but our directeur sportif said to leave it, that the stage was going to be hard enough anyway.

He was dead right.

The constant change of wind direction and narrow undulating roads meant that everyone was on their guard for most of the day and the six escapees never got more than three minutes.

There was never a lull in the pace as some team or other was always willing to ride on the front.

We half expected a bit of a battle between the GC riders in the last 50km or so, due to the crosswinds that were forecast, but I don't think many expected it to have such a big impact on the race.

Strung

With about 60km to go, the Jumbo- Visma team put the pressure on at the front of the bunch and really strung things out, but it calmed down on the third-category Cote de la Malric 10km later.

With the climb behind us and 40km to go, the Education First team cranked up the speed again, so I went to the front to try and shelter Michael and the guys from the strong wind blowing across our left shoulder.

As I did so, though, I led them, and half the bunch, the long way around a roundabout and we lost maybe 30 places in a flash. I sprinted out of the roundabout and back up the line a bit but hadn't much left in my legs as the guys just rode around me and got back into the front before the bunch split in three 5km later.

Up front, Quickstep, Ineos and Bora were riding flat out to gain time on those caught behind, with Cees Bol, Wilco Kelderman, Nikias Arndt and Soren Kragh Andersen tucked safely in the group and keeping Michael out of the wind. Behind them, some of the GC contenders were caught in the second group, giving the front group more motivation and pretty soon they were a minute up.

As the race went on up the road, I found myself in the third group, which got caught by a fourth group on the run in to the finish. As I settled in for the last 25km, Belgian rider Tiesj Benoot, who finished second yesterday, came up beside me.

"Hey Nico," he smiled. "You notice all of the breakaway from yesterday are back together?"

I looked around and sure enough all the guys who had been in yesterday's break were among our group so I wasn't the only one with tired legs.

At the finish, the guys gave Michael a super lead-out but an early sprint from stage winner Wout van Aert caught everyone and Michael got boxed in and finished fourth.

Thibaut Pinot, Richie Porte, Jakob Fuglsang and Rigoberto Uran all lost 1:40 to the front group today but my cousin Dan was up there and is now ninth overall, which is fantastic.

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