Thursday 26 April 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'I went over the bars and landed in a flowerbed'

Wednesday, July 8, Stage 5: Arras to Amiens (189.5km)

Andre Greiple punches the air as he beats Peter Sagan (R) and Mark Cavendish (L) to the stage win
Andre Greiple punches the air as he beats Peter Sagan (R) and Mark Cavendish (L) to the stage win

Nicolas Roche Tour de France Diary

One of the biggest problems on a race like the Tour de France can be the variety, nutritional value or sometimes even the quality of the food in the different hotels after each race.

While we all want to try and eat the right type of food to give us enough energy to get through the race, nobody wants to be put out of the Tour with an upset stomach or food poisoning, so to combat this, Team Sky have our own food truck on this year's race.

We have a huge American-style RV travelling with us, complete with a pop-out side section and it houses the chef's kitchen and our own team dining area.

The plan was to have all of our meals on the RV this year but a very long transfer last night meant the wagon didn't arrive until late and we had to have our food in the hotel for the first time this week.

Henrik, our chef, was lucky though as the hotel staff were really helpful and gave him full run of the hotel kitchen, which meant we had a lovely tuna and pasta dinner after a tough day on the cobbles.

After breakfast in the kitchen truck this morning, we had an hour-and-a-half drive to the start in Arras, where we were greeted by gusting winds and spitting rain.

With the flat profile of the stage suited to a bunch sprint our goal, as usual, was to try not to miss any splits in the race and to keep our team leader Chris Froome safe all the way to the finish in Amiens.

Read more: Nicolas Roche: 'I ran out of space and got nudged off the cobbles'

Read more: Nicolas Roche: 'The screech of metal scraping off tarmac told me it was a big one'

While riding at the front of any race is energy sapping, it's a necessary evil on the Tour, so all of the overall contenders' teams had the same plan, which made for a nervous day in the saddle.

With gusts of up to 60kph forecast and heavy rain, there was no reaction from the peloton when a couple of Frenchmen; Pierre-Luc Perichon of Bretagne-Seche Environment and Nicolas Edet of Cofidis, went clear from the gun.

Although they built up a couple of minutes lead, Edet soon gave up the ghost and drifted back to the main field as Perichon forged on alone.

Whether Edet realised there was more shelter to be had in the peloton or his team boss ordered him back to help his sprinter Nacer Bouhanni in the latter end of a stage I don't know, but by the time he came back Bouhanni no longer needed him as he was lying on his back in a ditch having been taken out of the race in a nasty crash after just 10km.

In the early kilometres, new race leader Tony Martin rode up to me in his yellow jersey and apologised for shoving me off the road on a cobbled section yesterday, which he probably didn't have to do but was much appreciated.

Although a lone breakaway was never going to stay out front in the wind today, it was no easy ride in the peloton and Pete Kennaugh and Richie Porte did a huge amount of work in the first 100km.

On TV, it probably looks like we're all just rolling along, but the pressure today was unbelievable.

Every change in direction brought an opportunity to split the race in the crosswinds and with all of the big teams riding in platoons alongside each other on the front, the stage turned into a war of nerves.

Combined with the wind and rain this caused more crashes today and I hit the deck myself after about 55km. As we were rounding a right-hand bend in a little village, Bauke Mollema's bike slid out from under him on a greasy section of new tar.

I pulled my brakes to try and avoid the Dutchman but instead of hitting Mollema, my bike fishtailed towards the kerb where a group of fans were watching the race in front of a large flowerbed.

I tried to control my skid but couldn't stop my wheel hitting the kerb, where I was catapulted over the handlebars and onto the stunned spectators, who broke my fall a little bit before we all landed in a heap in the flowers. I uprooted myself from the flowerbed just as our mechanic Gary arrived alongside me.

Gary pulled a few flowers out of my brake levers and cleaned my handlebars while I wiped the peat moss off my team kit and gave myself a quick once-over.

Apart from my pride though, I wasn't hurt and I hope none of the spectators were either.

Richie and Pete kept the rest of us sheltered and out of trouble until Cannondale-Garmin put in a big surge with about 80km to go.

With their work done, they drifted back as Leo Konig and Wout Poels took up the slack. Today was one of the first times that climber Leo had to ride on the front on the flat, so I sat behind him giving him instructions but he was very strong and spent about 50km in the strong headwind to save Luke Rowe and myself for the last 25km.

Although we were at the front all day, our whole team nearly got wiped out with about 70km to go, when one of the race motorbikes crashed as he tried to pass the peloton on our inside.

There was no room on the road so he tried squeezing past on the grass verge. While he just about managed to get around us, as soon as he passed us and opened up the throttle his motorbike slid into a rut and he crashed heavily. We were very lucky that he didn't fall to the left. That could have been very nasty.

Read more: Nicolas Roche: 'I ran out of space and got nudged off the cobbles'

Read more: Nicolas Roche: 'The screech of metal scraping off tarmac told me it was a big one'

Within five kilometres of Leo and Wout completing their work and drifting off the front, they were both caught in a huge crash that wiped out the whole back half of the bunch with 25km to go.

Thankfully they were both unhurt and managed to get to the finish relatively unscathed.

I took a few really hard pulls in the last 15km but with about 12km to go, the sprinters teams surged past us and I got swamped. Because it was such a massive headwind though, five minutes in the wheels saw me recover a bit so when I saw Froomey and 'G' were caught on the right hand side of the road, I sprinted back up and tried to shelter them into the last 6km or so.

In the last two kilometres as the sprinters came to the fore and German Andre Greipel took his second stage win of this Tour.

It's funny but there was a lot talk leading up to yesterday's cobbled stage but not much mention of today. The cobbles were a piece of cake compared to today.

Tour de France,

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