Saturday 24 August 2019

Nicolas Roche: 'It was clear that nobody understood what was going on'

Tour de France Diary

France's Thibaut Pinot. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images
France's Thibaut Pinot. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Friday, July 26 - Stage 19: Saint Jean-de-Maurienne to Tignes (126.5km)

For those who don't cycle, crashing on a descent in lycra is probably a bit like being dragged naked across a carpet or an astroturf pitch at 70kph.

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Although our team kit has a special strong mesh woven into the fabric of some of our shorts and jerseys to help protect us in such instances, I wasn't wearing them when I crashed heavily on yesterday's stage, so sleep didn't come easy for me last night.

Too sore to have a massage after the stage, I had the physio look at my neck and shoulders instead, as they were stiffening up from the impact. When I walked up the few steps to get back to my room after dinner I realised my legs were starting to do the same.

The burning sensation from the wounds on both of my legs and hips meant that I had to lie on my back in bed, but lying on my back just encouraged the worsening cough I've been brewing for the last few days and between the two ailments I was awake half the night and even though the stage didn't start until 1.30 this afternoon, I was up at 7.0.

At least I was quarantined in my own room and I wasn't waking anybody else up. After being mummified with bandages this morning, I asked the doctor to cut off the netting holding the bandages on my elbow as it felt a bit restrictive.

With five big mountains, including the highest peak of this Tour, the Col de l'Iseran, to be tackled today, the first 90km of today's stage were uphill. As expected, the attacking started when we hit a small climb straight after the flag dropped.

The speed was a bit of a shock to the system despite that fact that I'd done a 15-minute warm-up on the home trainer, but I survived the climb and when we hit a big wide road after 5km and the peloton bunched up a bit, I even drifted to the front and had a couple of goes to get up the road.

Rather than an attempt to win the stage though, the hope was that I could get into a group that would buy a few minutes and give me a chance to get over the big climbs later on before the race split to bits.

That didn't happen though, and when we hit the third-category Cote-de-Saint Andre after just 20km, the peloton split in four and I found myself in the third group on the road. On the short plateau afterwards we got caught by a much bigger group and as we began to climb again, we caught and passed Groupama FDJ leader Thibaut Pinot.

The Frenchman had already won stage 14 atop the legendary Tourmalet and was fifth overall this morning and looked to be one of the few capable of winning this Tour so I was surprised to see him at the back of the race.

When his team-mates didn't wait for him though, I knew there was something seriously wrong and a few minutes later he abandoned in tears due to an undisclosed muscle tear in his leg.

As the peloton whittled down with every passing kilometre up the road, I was suffering on every single climb today.

When my group of about 70 riders got to the bottom of the Iseran, with about 50km to go, we were 12 minutes down on the front of the race, the slopes of which was sparking a big battle between the overall contenders.

I was having a bit of a mental battle with my legs on the climb, but was hanging in there as a few raindrops began to fall and Chad Haga went back to the team car and got us rain jackets.

About 4km from the top of the 12km mountain we began to get some unusual information from the team car.

"Guys, there's a massive storm in the valley leading into the last climb. The race has been cancelled and the times are being taken on the top of this climb."

First we were told we had to ride 15km down to Val d'Isere, then we were told the descent was too dangerous; that we were to jump into the team cars and drive down to the bottom - where the racing would resume with the original time gaps given.

Myself, Chad and Nikias Arndt put some dry clothes on and hopped into the team car for the descent. The descent was bright and dry so we didn't know what the problem was and, from the back seat, we watched the live TV feed and saw the leaders, who were further up the road, giving out to the race organisers that they were asked to stop racing, so it was clear nobody understood what was going on.

A few minutes later though, we saw a snow plough trying to clear piles of slush from a huge hail shower and further down the road there was footage of a moving landslide blocking the road and it was announced that our day was over.

To hear that the stage was being shortened was good enough news for me. I was suffering already, so I was delighted when we didn't have to ride to the summit finish at Tignes and could stay in the cars.

This evening, our doctor had to cut a bit of skin off my left thumb to try and open up the wound and get at the remaining grit and stones inside it, so I'm not looking forward to the shower now.

It's funny how quickly things change in bike racing. Two days ago I was looking forward to this weekend in the hope that I could get into another breakaway and maybe get a result and now, suddenly, I'm struggling in the grupetto and fighting for survival just to get to Paris.

At the start of this Tour I found a little box in my suitcase containing 21 chocolates, accompanied by 21 messages.

That box has been my therapy on this race and every evening I look forward to having a chocolate and reading my note.

This evening, I'm happy to open the box and see there are only two chocolates left.

Tour de France,

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