Sport Cycling

Sunday 21 July 2019

Nicolas Roche: 'I heard this bang to my left and turned to see a guy flying through the air'

Tour De France Diary

Italy’s Elia Viviani claims Stage 4 for Deceuninck-Quickstep in Nancy. Photo: Getty Images
Italy’s Elia Viviani claims Stage 4 for Deceuninck-Quickstep in Nancy. Photo: Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Tuesday, July 7 - Stage 4: Reims to Nancy (215km)

After a 40km transfer following yesterday's stage, our team bus arrived into a jam-packed hotel car park in Reims. Sometimes when there are a few teams staying in the same hotel, there are so many team cars, luggage vans, mechanics vans, food trucks and team buses in the car park that space is at a premium.

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All of the drivers know this too, so their own little race for a patch of tarmac starts much earlier in the day and vans and awnings are set up like flags on the moon to mark each team's territory.

Years ago you would walk into a hotel and there would be a sandwich-board sign in the lobby with each rider's name and room number on it.

The problem with that was that everybody who came into the hotel knew where you were staying and while it never happened to me, it wasn't uncommon for a fan to knock on riders' bedroom doors looking for an autograph or something.

Everything is done on WhatsApp nowadays and the most you get is the odd fan around the lobby in search of a selfie or a souvenir.

On a flat stage like today, the main threat to a mass bunch finish was a large cohesive group going clear and building a big lead.

If lots of teams get riders in the break then there are very few squads left in the peloton who want to spend the day on the front trying to bring them back.

This morning though there were enough teams, including ourselves, with sprinters eyeing stage glory to make sure that didn't happen.

Three guys went clear from the drop of the flag and, even though their chances of staying clear were slim, they were only given about three-and-a-half minutes' advantage just in case.

Once again, Michael Matthews was our protected rider today and the aim was to get him to the finish as fresh as possible so that he could sprint the final 200 metres.

We wanted to keep our sprint train as fresh as possible so myself Wilco Kelderman and Lenny Kemna went back for bottles a few times each during the five-and-a-half-hour stage, while Chad Haga spent most of the day sitting in the wind with Michael sheltered behind him.

Chad's work goes mostly unseen but it's a tough job that wears you down and he still did a lot of the drag racing in the last 30km.

Concentration drifts on long stages and there were a lot of small crashes today - with one guy hitting a traffic calming centre aisle containing cobbles and a big flower pot as we cornered through a small village. I heard this bang to my left and turned to see him flying through the air.

I don't know who it was but hopefully he's all right.

Michael is one of the few sprinters who can climb pretty well so our end-of-stage plan was to put pressure on the others on the fourth-category hill with 18km to go.

We knew we weren't going to drop any of them, but we wanted to try and sap their legs a bit so that they wouldn't be as fresh in the final gallop to the line.

With the breakaway in sight, I told Lenny to make sure he did a good pull on the front.

Lenny is riding his first Tour and he also does a lot of work for the team that nobody really sees but he accelerated so much that I thought he was going to blow me off his wheel until suddenly, after a few hundred metres, he pulled over, leaving me on the front shaking my head, with the hill only started.

What I meant was for him to make sure he paced himself so that he could stay on the front for a long time but between the noise of the crowd and the way I said it, Lenny thought he had to pull full gas for as long as he could and we had a bit of a laugh about it after the stage.

To keep out of trouble, we opted to keep riding on the descent which was a 100kph free-for-all and a bit scary to be honest. There were five teams across the road, all vying to get their sprinter to the front and I drifted back as the finish neared and let the guys do their thing.

The finale is so fast that the sprinters have to be positioned perfectly and get an unhindered run to the line to have any chance.

Unluckily, Michael got boxed in a bit in a hectic gallop and finished ninth behind Italian stage winner Elia Viviani.

Tour de France,

Live, TG4, 1.10/Eurosport 1, 11.45

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