Saturday 21 April 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'I scrubbed the gravel out of my wounds in the bus shower'

Friday, May 27, Stage 19: Pinerolo to Risoul (244km)

Russia’s Ilnur Zakarin lies in a ditch after crashing during the Colle dell’Agnello downhill on stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia (Getty Images)
Russia’s Ilnur Zakarin lies in a ditch after crashing during the Colle dell’Agnello downhill on stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia (Getty Images)

Nicolas Roche

As today was the penultimate mountain stage of this year's Giro, it was really important that we got riders into the breakaway's this morning to have any chance of winning the stage.

As we were due to finish on the 12km-long first-category climb to Risoul, the plan was to get our best climber, Basque rider Mikel Nieve, up the road today.

Even though we had a 106km drag to the top of the highest point of the whole Giro, the Colle d'Angelo, before that, there was no shortage of attacks early on.

Having gambled on waiting a half an hour before jumping into breakaway groups yesterday though and ultimately missing the break, today I was very active, nailing anything that moved in the hope that it would be the one that stayed away to the finish.

In a reverse of yesterday's events though, none of the early moves stuck and by the time I infiltrated the right break, after 75km, I was pretty tired and all I could do was sit there and try to recover as we climbed.

My Sky team were well represented in the 28-man group though, with David Lopez, Ian Boswell and Mikel all making it as well.

As usually happens when the numbers are high though, the break never really worked together and Michele Scarponi of Astana was the first one to attack again about 6km from the summit, followed by double stage winner Diego Ullissi of Lampre.

Mikel and I found ourselves in a little chase group with Maxime Monfort of Lotto, Andre Cardoso of Cannondale and Hubert Dupont of Ag2r.

Although David and Boz were dropped by the initial acceleration, Boz made his way back up and did a great job to drag us clear of the rest of the chasers and open a six-minute gap on the peloton.

As we rode up into the clouds, the snow was piled ten feet high either side of the road and the temperature dropped to around four degrees.

Boz's pacesetting put me under pressure in the last couple of kilometres and I began to struggle and let the wheels go, pacing myself to the summit where we had team carers waiting at the roadside with a bottle of hot tea and a sleeveless gilet to keep us warm on the 45km descent that followed.

Even though I reckoned I had plenty of time to regain contact with the group, just to save a few seconds I stuffed the gilet up the front of my jersey to block the wind rather than waste time putting it on.

There was a lot of water on the first part of the descent, where race leader Steven Kruijswijk later crashed in the peloton, and because we were still in the clouds, visibility was really bad so I took it cautiously before opening up the throttle as I got further down.

With the group just hovering in front of me halfway down though, my front wheel suddenly slid out from under me on a corner and I hit the deck hard, ending up sprawled out on the road right in front of one of the ten ambulances the race organisers had parked on the roadside in expectation of crashes.

The crew ran over to see how I was but having landed on my ribs, I felt as if I'd just been sucker-punched and lay there winded for a few seconds before hauling myself up and continuing the descent, albeit at a less hectic pace this time.

I knew that Vincenzo Nibali and Esteban Chavez had gone clear of the peloton behind me and were coming across so I tried to recover before latching onto them.

With team-mates Ruben Plaza and Michele Scarponi sitting up to wait for them, they stormed across to Boz and Mikel's group, who were now 40 seconds down on lone leader Monfort as we approached the climb to the finish.

Scarponi set a fierce pace into the bottom and the group exploded when Nibali attacked.

As Mikel went after him with Chavez, Boz went out the back and I hung on until 7km from the finish, where I found myself alongside Monfort, Dupont, Cardoso and Georg Priedler.

Another chase group containing Alejandro Valverde, Rafal Majka and Rigoberto Uran came up to us with 5km to go, but their constant jumping and change in pace saw them ride away as quickly as they had come across to us.

A couple of minutes after Nibali took stage victory from Mikel, Priedler attacked our little group in the last kilometre and I went after him, to take ninth on the stage.

After the line an Irish flag with 'Roche' on it caught my eye, so I soft-pedalled over and caught my breath there, before taking a few photos and giving them my gloves as a souvenir.

After warming down on the turbo, I spent the next 10 minutes in the shower on the bus scrubbing bits of gravel out of my wounds from the crash.

After gingerly taking my seat for the transfer back to the hotel, I discovered that Philip wasn't on board. I've just found out he abandoned today but have no idea what happened yet. Hopefully he's okay.

Giro d'Italia, Live, Eurosport 2, 12pm

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