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Nicolas Roche: I was expecting more names to be named, and more sanctions


Norway’s Alexander Kristoff (3rd left) sprints to win the first stage of the 73rd edition of the Paris-Nicebetween Saint-Remy-les-Chevreuse and Contres

Norway’s Alexander Kristoff (3rd left) sprints to win the first stage of the 73rd edition of the Paris-Nicebetween Saint-Remy-les-Chevreuse and Contres

AFP/Getty Images

Norway’s Alexander Kristoff (3rd left) sprints to win the first stage of the 73rd edition of the Paris-Nicebetween Saint-Remy-les-Chevreuse and Contres

Last night's hotel room was so small that my room-mate Luke Rowe's bed was just millimetres away from mine, and before going to sleep we had to put our suitcases away in case we fell over them if we got up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night.

While Luke nodded off happy in the knowledge that his beloved Cardiff Devils had won their Challenge Cup ice hockey final, I lay there for a while contemplating what went wrong in my prologue.

When my dad phoned this morning it was still in my head and I pondered whether it might be the position on my new time trial bike that affected me. But for the first time in years the television cameras had followed me for part of the course and, as usual, dad had a more plausible excuse for my poor time.

"Nico, when you went off the ramp you looked like you were going out to do a 30km time trial rather than a 7km prologue. You weren't going hard enough!"

Today was quite an unusual day for a stage of Paris-Nice. Normally every stage of this race is flat out from the gun but today was very different.

It was quite stressful in the neutralised section this morning as there was a 1.5km climb, the third-category Cote de Bel Air, right after the start and as it was the first and only King of the Mountains point on the stage, we were expecting a bit of a fight to get a breakaway clear in order for someone to take the mountains jersey. But it never materialised.

Instead, Frenchman Jonathan Hivert of Bretagne Seche led the way over the top and just kept going, building up a lead of over three-and-a-half minutes on his own.


By the time the first intermediate sprint of the day came along after 19km or so, the rush towards it wasn't as aggressive as I had expected and when the sprint was over, the peloton settled down into what can only be described as an easy tempo.

With one guy up the road for the next 15km or so, nobody wanted to take up the chase and it was almost impossible for us to ride slower. We were doing around 20kph on a perfectly flat road which would have probably seen me doing 15kph more if I had been out training.

With narrow, unsheltered roads for much of the day, today's stage was made for tearing the bunch apart but even when we caught Hivert, after 33km, another two riders jumped clear and there was no big reaction from behind.

Although Thomas Voeckler and Anthony Delaplace managed to build up a lead of over six minutes, we knew that they were never going to hold off a fast-finishing peloton, so there was no mad rush to bring them to heel.

With not much else to do to pass the time but chat as we rolled along, some of the conversation in the peloton turned to the Cycling Independent Reform Commission's report into the UCI and its practices.

For months this has been billed as the big investigation into doping and corruption in cycling so I was expecting some big announcements but from what I can gather so far, there was nothing new in there, nothing which hasn't been said before.

To be honest, I was expecting more names to be named and more sanctions to be handed out, something that would be of use in the fight against doping, rather than the useless rehashing of stories we've all heard before.

For most of the day race leader Michal Kwiatkowski and his Etixx-Quick Step team had one man, Stijn Vandenbergh, dragging the peloton along on his own. When he pulled off the front and stopped for a pee with 60km to go, with the gap down to around two minutes, the Astana team, who were riding directly behind him, simply eased up and waited for him to resume duties at the front again rather than use their energy in the chase. I took the opportunity to stop for a pee myself before riding back up the outside of the peloton and up alongside the rest of my Sky team-mates.

Our team plan today was to protect Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas as much as possible so with about 30km to go my Sky team-mates and I moved to the left-hand side of the road and lined out behind our former Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins as the Astana and Orica-GreenEDGE teams did the same alongside us.

Up ahead, the wily Voeckler sensed the danger and having ridden within himself until then, the punchy Europcar rider suddenly upped the pace and he and Delaplace opened their advantage from one minute to two minutes with 20km to go.

With 11km remaining and the two riders still out front there was only one second available for the peloton at the final intermediate sprint of the day.

As the Etixx-Quick Step team towed the yellow-clad Kwiatkowski up the right-hand side of the bunch as we approached the line, it looked like the Polish rider would increase his overall lead but, alert to the danger, my team-mate Geraint jumped across the road, onto his wheel and beat him to the bonus second, moving himself to within 13 seconds of the race lead.


By then the sprinters' teams should have been massing at the front but Bradley was still thundering along at the head of affairs and had cut the gap to half a minute with 5km to go. Brad began to wave at the other teams to do some work but, to be honest, I think the world time trial champion was going so hard that they simply weren't able to go any faster than him.

Although my role today was to stick with Richie and bring him home safely, when Brad and then Christian Knees pulled off the front with about 4km to go, I went up to give them a hand, only to be saved by the long-awaited arrival of the sprinters' teams at the front.

The sprint was won by Norwegian Alexandre Kristoff, while Kwiatkowski held onto his overall lead for another day. I finished alongside Brad towards the back of the bunch while he, Geraint and Richie all held on to their top 15 spots overall.

Paris-Nice, live, Eurosport, 1.00pm

Irish Independent