Sunday 18 August 2019

Nicolas Roche: 'I tried to get rid of the big horsepower guys to have chance to win'

Tour de france Diary

Nicolas Roche (Team Sunweb, right) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) driving the pace at the front of the breakaway during yesterday’s 170.5-km Stage 9 from Saint-Etienne to Brioude. Photo: Christian Hartmann/Reuters
Nicolas Roche (Team Sunweb, right) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) driving the pace at the front of the breakaway during yesterday’s 170.5-km Stage 9 from Saint-Etienne to Brioude. Photo: Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Nicolas Roche

Saturday, July 13 - Stage 8: Macon to Saint-Etienne (200km)

Although today wasn't classified as a big mountain day, the 4,000 metres of climbing over seven 'medium' mountains en route to Saint-Etienne this morning looked conducive to a big breakaway going clear early and staying away to contest the stage victory.

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With that in mind, our team was ready for a big fight to get into that breakaway but instead, the second or third move of the day went clear after a few kilometres and Bora-Hansgrohe started riding behind them straight away.

Once the four-man escape was gone, Nikias Arndt and I had a chat over the radio with our directeur sportif in the team car.

Bora-Hansgrohe were obviously focused on bringing the break back for Peter Sagan to sprint at the finish and, as we had nobody in the break, I wondered if we should refocus and join them on the front.

After a few minutes we all agreed that we would commit to the chase, try and bring the break back and let Michael Matthews sprint rather than letting the day go without trying anything.

There were three second-category climbs straight away so my American team-mate Chad Haga was the first one to go up and ride on the front of the peloton for us.

I think Chad's tempo had Sagan in trouble a few times on some of the climbs so after about 100km his Bora team decided they weren't going to pull with us any more and we were left on our own.

I asked Julian Alaphilippe if his Deceuninck-Quickstep team were going to pull as I knew he had been planning an attack to try and get the race lead back on the last climb of the day with 11km to go.

Alaphilippe said they would help us later in the stage and after 110km a few of his team-mates joined us on the front.

Nikias and Cees Bol set a pretty solid tempo on the third last climb with 60km to go, where Astana and Education First surprised everyone by ramping the pace up another notch at the top and the race was suddenly eyeballs-out to the finish.

With everyone fighting for position at the bottom of the final climb, the pace was brutal when Education First led the bunch into a corner with 13km to go.

Even though we heard on the team radio 'be careful in the town there is a sharp corner...' unlike rally drivers with notes, we tore into what turned out to be a double corner blind. On the front of the peloton, one of the EF guys crashed and brought down last year's winner Geraint Thomas.

I was about 60 riders back and when I came around the corner they were all piled up on the left-hand side.

Still, the chase continued.

With only Thomas de Gendt still ahead from the break and bonus seconds for the first three over the top of the final climb today, everyone expected Alaphilippe to go for those time bonuses to close his six-second deficit on race leader Giulio Ciccone.

Capable In fact, everyone knew Alaphilippe was going to go on the final climb but when the attack came nobody could do anything about it. The only one who was capable of even following him was compatriot Thibaut Pinot of Groupama FDJ.

Behind them, the bunch broke into groups of five or six on top.

My team-mate Soren Kragh Anderson was in the first chase, Michael in the second and just behind them I was with Lenny Kamna, Sagan, Alejandro Valverde and Matteo Trentin.

Unwilling to help sprinters Sagan and Trentin regain contact with Michael, I sat on as they brought us back up on the descent.

With 9km to go, I told Soren to ease up and let me ride. Soren was a bit stronger than me today so I wanted him to save himself to be able to position Michael in the final sprint.

As Soren swung off, I pulled from 6km to 3km with Alesandro De Marchi and yellow jersey Ciccone also putting in big turns before the road rose to the line and I swung off.

Unfortunately, we couldn't close the 26-second gap to stage winner De Gendt or the 20-second gap to the chasing duo but Michael put in a really good sprint to win from our group and took fourth on the stage.

Up ahead, Frenchman Alaphilippe took enough time to reclaim the yellow jersey of race leader, which will make him very popular with home fans on Bastille Day tomorrow.

Sunday, July 14 - Stage 9: Saint-Etienne to Brioude (170km)

Three categorised climbs on the road to Brioude this morning meant we were unsure show today's stage would pan out; whether a big break would go clear and stay away or whether Bora-Hansgrohe would try to control things for a sprint finish. We decided to keep an eye on things and if the break wasn't gone before the first-category climb after 32km, myself and Lenny would have a go there.

On an uncategorised climb after about 7km though, I was up the front and got myself into a 14-man move that ended being the break of the day.

At one point we had Marc Soler of Movistar and Rui Costa of UAE chasing us. Both are very good climbers so we weren't too keen on either of them joining us.

Soler bridged across near the summit of the first-category Mur d'Aurec-Sur-Loire after 32km but a three-quarter tailwind and a 20-minute stint of flat-out riding to open a the gap on the peloton meant Costa never made it. With the gap opened, our team cars were allowed up behind us and we took turns to drop out of the line to grab a bottle and some food before riding through again.

Today's stage was very undulating with lumpy hard roads suited more to some of the classic guys in the break than the climbers but there were a lot of very experienced strong riders in the group so we worked well together until we hit a rolling section at the top of a 7km-long third-category climb after 105km.

Here, the attacks started and the arguing followed as we tried to persuade people that 70km out was way too far to be splitting the group if we wanted to survive to the finish.

We had started riding smoothly again when Lukas Postlberger of Bora rode off on the descent and despite a flat-out chase from the rest of us, he had around 50 seconds at the bottom.

With Postlberger still 20 seconds ahead, the attacking started again on a little hill before the final categorised climb with 28km to go.

Here, I managed to bridge across to a group containing Spaniards Soler and Ivan Garcia, South African champion Daryl Impey and Belgian classics trio Tiesj Benoot, Jasper Stuyven and Oliver Naesen but the effort took a lot out of me and I had to skip a turn or two on the flat to recover.

As we opened a gap to the rest of the break, we flew into the bottom of the final climb with 16km to go.

The tempo on the slope was fast but I needed to get rid of the bigger horsepower guys and gave it a proper effort, going hard as I could up the climb to try to drop them. Benoot came with me and as we pulled clear we knew the only chance we had was to work together.

When Impey bridged across to us 400 metres from the top, it was a surprise because I'd been looking back and didn't see him coming. I knew it would be tough to beat him as he is a rapid finisher.

Attacked Impey put the pressure on at the bottom of the descent with 8km to go and I closed the gap just as we hit a small uphill again and Benoot attacked.

Impey used his sprint to close the gap but I hadn't recovered from the effort and at that moment I just didn't have the kick to go with him.

I did the next 3km dangling eight seconds behind them in a headwind but just couldn't get across.

With 5km to go, I realised the other four guys were closing on me so I took a breather to make sure I was able to stay with them.

In the sprint, I had no more legs and finished sixth on the stage.

I'm quite disappointed because I had a real chance of a stage win today. I had to give it all on the last climb to get away from the faster guys and it just cost me that little bit of energy when Benoot and Impey went.

But this is the Tour de France, the biggest race in the world, and sometimes you have to admit that some guys are just stronger than you.

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