Tuesday 12 December 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'I still think Dan could end up on the podium'

Tour de France diary

Dan Martin rode in the Tour de France with a broken back
Dan Martin rode in the Tour de France with a broken back

Nicolas Roche

Wednesday, July 5 - Stage 5: Vittel to La Planche de Belles Filles (161km)

As the start of today's stage was only 500 metres from the hotel this morning, we had our pre-stage meeting on the team bus in the hotel car park after signing on.

With the first of only three mountain-top finishes coming today after a relatively short stage of 161km, we knew there was a possibility that the attacks could get out of hand and a big group could open a huge lead this morning.

We also knew that the 6km final climb would suit our team leader Richie Porte and that there was the possibility of a stage win in it for him if we could get him to the final climb at the front of the race.

Although we had no plans to start the chase, we decided that it would be in our interests to give Sky a hand to bring back a small breakaway group if one went clear early on.

When an eight-man group containing some of the strongest one day riders in the peloton escaped after a few kilometres, though, most of the bunch took the opportunity to stop for a pee on the 5km descent that followed and the gap went out to two-and-a-half minutes pretty quickly.

Despite the fact that Ag2r's Jan Bakelants was in the move and had begun the day just 16 seconds off Geraint Thomas' yellow jersey, when my BMC team-mates and I got back to the front after the call of nature, nobody seemed willing to take up the chase.

After a quick chat on the team radio we decided to go to the front of the peloton and get things started, initially thinking Thomas's Sky team would be only too happy to ride with us.

But when they just moved out of the way when we came up, from then on we knew we were on our own. We committed all day and the team rode really well.

Mickey Schar and Stefan Kung controlled the gap all day, even when it went out to three-and-a-half minutes. The duo set such a high pace that the bunch was in one long line for most of the day.

I stopped for a pee halfway through the stage and it took me ages to get back to the front and I certainly didn't envy Amael Moinard who had to make a huge effort to go back to the team car for bottles and then carry the extra weight back up to us as we screamed along.

Approaching the final climb, with 12km to go, all but one of the breakaways had been reeled in and the drag race for position started with Astana, Sky and Trek all coming up to the front alongside us as Mickey and Stefan called it a day at the front.

For some reason, Orica-Scott put two guys on the front on the little descent with around 10km to go but when they got to the bottom they had nothing left so we were able to get around them and get back to the front before the Sky train hit the front with 6km to go.

Here, two Quickstep guys came up the outside and dropped my cousin Dan Martin on my left-hand side.

I could see how smooth he looked on the bike and I knew he was going to be in the mix at the summit.

With Michal Kwiatkowski and then Mikel Nieve driving the group along and reeling in the last escapee Philippe Gilbert, the first kilometre and a half of the climb was a proper sprint and riders went out the back door in their droves.

There were only around a dozen of us left when Italian champion Fabio Aru attacked with 2.5km to go.

Disappointed Although I went out the back at that point, I tried to keep riding hard in case anything happened Richie up front.

In the end, Aru finished 16 seconds clear of Dan, who took four seconds out of third-placed Chris Froome and fourth-placed Richie.

At the top journalists asked me if I was disappointed with the day but I'm not disappointed. Ok, Richie didn't win the stage and didn't take any time out of Froome, Aru or Dan, he took time out of everybody else and is now up to fifth overall, 39 seconds off new race leader Froome.

Today was a great finish for Dan, and if he keeps riding like he is at the moment then I don't think he'll have any problems on the rest of the mountain stages.

Although he's said his main aim is a stage win here, I still think Dan could end up on the podium in Paris.

Tour de France, live,

TG4, 1.10 / ITV4, Eurosport, 11.0

Irish Independent

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