Sunday 17 December 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'I saw Talansky pulling riders and bikes off his team-mate'

Thursday, July 11 – Stage 12: Fougeres to Tours, 218km

Race leader yellow jersey holder Team Sky rider Christopher Froome
Race leader yellow jersey holder Team Sky rider Christopher Froome
Race leader yellow jersey holder Team Sky rider Christopher Froome of Britain adjusts his glasses before a training session on the first rest day of the centenary Tour de France cycling race in La Baule

My team arrived a little bit earlier than normal at the start today as our bus driver Laurent, or 'Lolo', as we call him, was due to get an award from race organisers ASO for his 20th year on the Tour. Before I joined Saxo-Tinkoff this year I knew Lolo to see as he was friendly with the bus driver from my old team, Ag2r.

At Ag2r, while our bus driver was prone to the odd bout of road rage and loved to honk at anyone who dared get in his way, I used to have a big double seat in the front of the bus and would leave a pile of stuff on the chair at the start of each stage and it would still be there when the stage was over.

Lolo is pretty particular about the Saxo-Tinkoff team bus, however, and has his own rules. While we have leather seats up front, down the back we have an area a bit like a football dressing-room, complete with a U-shaped wooden bench and hooks over our heads for our helmets.

With Lolo, you travel in the front and get changed in the back, which is not exactly a bed of roses when there are eight riders getting changed after a 200km stage held in 30 degrees. But no matter what, there's no changing allowed in the front. Lolo likes to keep his leather in good condition.

In fairness, Lolo not only drives the bus, but has plenty of other jobs too. He makes sure there is coffee, suncream, ice, safety pins for our race numbers and tape for our earpieces on board before the start.


Afterwards, thanks to him, we have hot water and towels for the showers and a box of post-stage snacks. He also cleans the whole bus twice a day and probably deserves a medal for putting up with us, which is what he got today.

With 8km of neutralised section on top of a 218km stage, today was a very long day and, with the stage suited to the sprinters, was all about getting our leader Alberto Contador to the line without any mishaps.

There was a lot of wind coming from our left side today so most teams were trying to keep their leaders up near the front, not necessarily for fear of the bunch splitting, but just because it was easier at the front than at the back.

As usual, we stayed near the front all day, with Sergio Paulinho doing a huge amount of work early on to keep Alberto out of the wind.

In the final 25km we sat right at the front with the sprinters' teams, and coming towards the finish we had Daniele Bennati and Matteo Tosatto doing an incredible ride, swapping turns at the front as the rest of us sat sheltered behind them. In the final kilometres, I asked Alberto if I needed to give the guys a hand but he told me to save my energy, so today was a quieter day for me.

With two corners in the last 650m, there was always the chance of a crash in the final sprint but there was more than one and they all happened way before then. With 5km to go, the Orica GreenEdge squad rushed past us as we approached a roundabout. Halfway around it, however, their sprint train fell apart when Svein Tuft, who was now leading the peloton, slid off and took a team-mate with him.

Having avoided the crash, I sprinted out of the roundabout on the right-hand side of the road but with around 3km to go, noticed that everyone was fighting for shelter and beginning to squeeze in ahead of me because the wind was coming from the left. A lot of crashes happen on the inside when riders try to get shelter so, although it was windier on the left, I realised it would be a bit safer and moved over away from the madness.

Seconds later there was a huge smash and a pile of riders went down on my right hand side. Myself, Alberto and Roman Kreuziger got around but Michael Rogers was an inch away from falling, pulling his foot out of the pedal for balance before clipping back in and escaping the melee.

I saw the pile of bodies on TV in the bus after the stage. Andrew Talansky of Garmin Sharp was trying to pull riders and bikes off his team-mate who was buried at the bottom of the jenga-like pile, while Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen's second crash of the day broke his shoulder and left yellow jersey Chris Froome another man down for the rest of the Tour.

As we were unsure as to whether the crash had happened inside the final 3km, and therefore whether we would be given the same time as the leader, I sprinted to try and keep close to the front with Alberto and Roman in my wheel. By the time we came out of the last corner, I was flat out and felt like my knees were up around my ears sprinting but the top guys were still pulling away from us in the tailwind. It was pretty impressive to watch.

Thankfully we've got through another day safely and Alberto and Roman are still fourth and fifth overall. Tomorrow is more of the same and while we haven't even had a man in the break on any of the days so far, we're not trying to win stages or gain TV airtime. Our goal is to win this Tour and we are doing everything to get Alberto to the Alps in the best shape possible.

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