Monday 19 August 2019

Nicolas Roche: 'I was thrown forward over the handlebars and landed on the road at about 40kph'

Tour de France Diary

Dutch rider Dylan Groenewegen of Jumbo-Visma took the stage victory. Photo: AFP
Dutch rider Dylan Groenewegen of Jumbo-Visma took the stage victory. Photo: AFP

Nicolas Roche

Friday July 12, Stage 7: Belfort to Chalon-sur-Saone (230km)

Last night we stayed in a small family run hotel in the city centre and while the staff were really nice and friendly, it got a bit noisy around 10pm, with loads of car horns beeping, music playing, and people cheering and shouting outside.

My room-mate Lenny Kemna and I were a bit puzzled at first, but it turned out that there was a big Algerian community in the town and they were out celebrating the fact that Algeria had beaten the Ivory Coast on penalties in the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup Of Nations.

Lenny and I were a bit worried it was going to go on all night and were just about to reach for the ear plugs when it died down and we got a decent night's sleep.

This morning the hotel was just a few kilometres from the start, where we made plans for the longest stage of this Tour. Once again, a bunch sprint looked likely so it was all-in for our Aussie sprinter Michael Matthews, although we knew the finale would be very hard to control with so many sprinters' teams here.

When two riders went clear after the start, the peloton were content to let them go and the next two hours were probably the most relaxed I've been so far on this race, as I spent the time talking to my former Ag2r team-mates Mikael Cherel and Romain Bardet. Things were pretty straightforward until about 105km into the stage, where I suddenly found myself on the ground.

Riding along in the line, I stood up to get out of the saddle, when something happened my front wheel and it suddenly went from under me. I was thrown forward over the handlebars and landed on the road at about 40kph.

With my arms outstretched in front of me to try and protect myself, I landed on my chest and stomach, so as well as being a bit bewildered at what had just happened, I was a bit winded for a few seconds as well.

With the rest of the peloton rubber necking at me as they rode past, I picked myself up and moved to the left-hand side of the road and waited for our team car.

As the order of team cars goes on the order of your best rider in the General Classification, up until yesterday we had been second car behind the bunch.

Today, though, we were 20th, so I had a bit longer to survey my cuts and scrapes as I waited for our mechanic to put a new front wheel in and push me back on my way.

Coming into the intermediate sprint with about 35km to go, there was a sudden acceleration at the front from a couple of teams and the bunch split in three - with my cousin Dan Martin and Colombian climber Nairo Quintana caught in the back group. I was well placed at the time and there was no real panic, but it goes to show how easy an overall contender can lose time if they lose concentration.

Apparently Quintana had stopped for a pee at the time.

As our Sunweb train got positioned at the front for the last 20km, my role was to ride from 10km to go until 5km to go, but that stint was cut short when my new front wheel punctured on a roundabout with 7km remaining and my bike swerved to the right. It took a good bit to hold it up and not come down for a second time.

As the race unfolded without me, I waited for the car to come up through all the dropped riders and those who had sat up after doing their turn in the lead out.

As I remounted, Rohan Dennis had just pulled off the front after doing a turn for his sprinter Sonny Colbrelli and we just rode to the line together, finishing 4'25" behind stage winner Dylan Groenewegen of Jumbo-Visma.

Afterwards I had a pre-planned interview with Eurosport for The Breakaway programme, so I got a clean jersey on and went over for a chat for about a quarter of an hour.

Our hotel was only 5km away from the finish today, so some of the guys rode back while I got a lift on the bus.

Back in the hotel I looked over my front wheel with the mechanics and it looks like a broken spoke caused my crash, snapping as I stood up.

I was lucky it was at 40kph and not on a descent at 60kph.

Although not a mountain stage, tomorrow there is 4,000m of climbing so it will be very hard and it looks like one where the breakaways could win the stage.

It will be a big fight to get into that beak, but I'll be giving it a shot.

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