Tuesday 20 February 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'I managed to stay upright until someone ran into me from the back'

Etixx-QuickStep Marcel Kittel is kissed by two hostesses after winning yesterday’s Giro stage and claiming the leader’s pink jersey. Photo: Vincent Jannink/AFP/Getty Images
Etixx-QuickStep Marcel Kittel is kissed by two hostesses after winning yesterday’s Giro stage and claiming the leader’s pink jersey. Photo: Vincent Jannink/AFP/Getty Images

Nicolas RocheL Giro d'Italia Diary

Saturday, May 7, Stage 2: Arnhem to Nijmegen (190km)

With the Giro starting in Holland this year, my Sky team-mates and I have been staying in the same hotel since Tuesday.

As we are here again tonight, I didn't have to pack my suitcase before the start of today's stage, which is always a bonus.

A 40-minute drive to the stage start in Arnhem saw all of the teams introduced to the crowd again before we headed back to the team bus for our first pre-race briefing of this Giro.

With a completely flat opening ride to Nijmegen ahead of us, we expected a mass bunch sprint finish to the stage, so our aim was to ignore the early breakaway and simply stay near the front of the race and out of trouble until then.

When three guys went clear from kilometre zero this morning, it seemed that most of the other teams had the same idea, and the stage went pretty much as we expected it to go.

The opening 40km or so were spent in a huge national park, with the wooded areas keeping us sheltered from the sun. From there the road changed constantly from dual carriageways to narrow one lane streets.

Even with the constant changes and the occasional bollards, speed ramps and other pieces of road furniture that are synonymous with racing in Holland, today was pretty calm for an opening day of a Grand Tour.

As usual, all of the major contenders and big team leaders wanted to be at the front to stay safe, but the Giro always seems a bit more 'tranquilo' than the Tour and there wasn't the pandemonium in the peloton that comes with the opening stage of the French race.

The whole route today was lined with spectators and with most of them dressed in pink, there was a really good atmosphere on the roadside.

My room-mate Ian Boswell and my compatriot Philip Deignan did the majority of the riding in the wind to keep the rest of us sheltered and out of trouble for most of the stage before David Lopez and Christian Knees took over towards the end.

When we arrived on to the finishing circuit, which we had to cover twice, the road suddenly squeezed down to one lane with 8km to go. I was sure there was going to be carnage when we came around for the final time but I was happily surprised to find that it was pretty steady and nobody took too many risks.

With a lot of climbers on our team for this Giro, our sole sprinter here, Elia Viviani, doesn't have the big trains that the other fast men have and has to pretty much fend for himself in the sprint finishes.

I tried to give him a hand to get into position in the final three or four kilometres but the finale was pretty chaotic and he was way better at manoeuvring through the sprinter trains than me. Elia jumped from one wheel to the other in the run in to the line but the effort took its toll on him in the final gallop and he ended up 13th on the stage as German Marcel Kittel took stage victory and edged himself closer to race leader Tom Dumoulin's pink jersey.

Sunday, May 8, Stage 3: Nijmegen to Arnhem (190km)

Although we've been in the same hotel for the last few days, last night was the first time we ate in the hotel restaurant.

With the Movistar, Tinkoff-Saxo, Katusha and Nippo Vini Fantini squads all staying in the same hotel as us, we've all been eating in a big conference room as the various team chefs battled it out for space in the hotel kitchen.

Last night though it felt a little bit less like being on a race as we sat at the restaurant tables with the rest of the hotel guests.

With today's start in the same place as we finished yesterday, and today's stage almost a reversal of the day before, our team briefing was pretty quick with our roles and goals similar to yesterday.

Although the sun was out again, the wind was much stronger than yesterday so there was a more stressful atmosphere in the bunch as we rolled out of town. Even in the neutralised section you could feel it. There was more pushing and shoving to stay in front. Again the day's first attack stuck, with four riders going clear and opening an eight-minute advantage before race leader Dumoulin's Giant Alpecin squad and Kittel's Etixx-Quick-Step team set about bringing them back.

I was down the back of the peloton as we exited a roundabout halfway through the stage and I passed three or four of the Ag2r team lying on the road after they had crashed right at the front of the bunch. Their team leader, Jean-Christophe Peraud, came off worst of them all and was taken away in an ambulance after his team-mate slid out in front of him on the roundabout.

With nowhere to go and no time to react, Peraud was catapulted over the handlebars and landed on his face.

I don't know if it was the wind or the constant changes of direction, but for some reason today there were a lot of small crashes, and with 70km to go, I was caught up in one of them.

As we entered a small town there was a little pinch point where the barriers came out on to the road and suddenly there wasn't enough room for everyone to squeeze through.

A few of the Orica GreenEDGE guys crashed in front of me but I managed to slam on the brakes and stay upright until somebody ran into the back of me and I toppled over on to a pile of bodies and bikes.


I wasn't hurt but it took me a minute or so to untangle my bike from the mess.

When I did, I noticed my Garmin bike computer was missing from my handlebars. Having scoured the vicinity, I noticed it on the road underneath somebody else's bike but when I went to reconnect it, the holder on my handlebars had broken so I had to stuff it into my jersey pocket and ride the rest of the stage blind.

The crash split the bunch in two and it took my group of about 30 riders a long time to get back to the front.

After that, I stayed with team leader Mikel Landa and made sure he was safe while Kneesy tried to get Elia up to the front and on to Kittel's wheel for the final sprint. There was another big crash with 12km to go but I managed to avoid it by jumping on to the footpath, while a few more fell with 7km to go.

Elia didn't exactly have a clear run to the line but after nudging and bouncing his way through, he managed to pull off a great second place on the stage behind Kittel, who is clearly the fastest here and now leads the race overall.

Tomorrow we leave Holland for Italy where we head towards the mountains for the first time on this Giro.

Irish Independent

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