Nicolas Roche: 'My breathing wasn't great on the climb, I couldn't do anything to close the gap'
Tour de France Diary
Wednesday, July 24 - Stage 17: Pont du Gard to Gap (206km)
As a first-year professional, Cees Bol is only 23 and was drafted into our Tour team at the last minute with the aim to give him some experience and then take him out of the race before he got too battered, but he'd been going well and wanted to finish his first Tour.
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His crash in the last 30km yesterday left him a bit bruised and while he finished the stage he also banged his head so, rather than taking any chances, the team pulled him out last night and we left this morning with a reduced squad of six.
The last medium mountain stage before we head into the Alps meant a lot of guys saw a good opportunity today to get a big group up the road and fight for a stage win before the big guns take over tomorrow and fight for overall victory.
Our team plan was to have as many guys in it as possible, but in the end I was the only one who made it into a group of 34 escapees after just 5km.
A couple of teams that missed the move began to chase us immediately, while my own team didn't fancy my odds against 33 others and began to do the same - so I sat on the back of the break for a while to see what happened.
The pace was relentless and for a solid 30km the peloton were less than half a minute back. I felt like I was on a piece of elastic every time we went around a corner on the narrow roads and I had to sprint to stay in contact.
We covered more than 50km in the first hour and began to open a gap that would grow to over 15 minutes by the end of the stage.
Again, the temperatures were well up today, with the stage starting when it was 38 degrees already, but we had a big shock to the system after about 110km when we got caught in a rain storm that saw the mercury drop to 20 degrees in a flash.
The pace was so fast up front that nobody had time to go back to the cars for jackets or anything but thankfully we were out the other side five minutes later.
I was surprised that we never settled down when we opened a big gap but the bigger guys were probably trying to tire us climbers out and, looking back, it probably worked.
When the attacks came with around 30km to go, I had just grabbed a last bottle from the team car and was down the back of the group and missed the split. I tried to be conservative and gamble a bit but when Simon Clarke tried to get across on the last climb, I went after him.
The problem was that the guys out front had team-mates with us who were doing their best to stop any counter-attacks.
Chris Juul-Jensen is a former teammate of mine, now riding for Mitchelton-Scott. He was actually born in Ireland to Danish parents, lived in Wicklow and raced on the Irish domestic scene before moving back to Denmark at 16.
With his team-mate up the road, Chris was pouncing on anything that moved and was instrumental in setting up Matteo Trentin's stage win today.
Trentin lives next door to me in Monaco so in the peloton we call each other 'Vicino', the Italian for neighbour. A nice guy, I sometimes see him dropping his kid to school on an e-bike with a child seat.
My breathing wasn't great on the climb so I couldn't do anything to close the gap and within minutes it was another chance gone.
After riding on the descent, I didn't have the legs to do anything when the others started attacking in the last kilometre so I just aimed myself for the line and kept pedalling.
Two guys who had been in the cars on the descent actually flew past me in the last metres but 16th place or 14th place today wasn't going to make much difference.
Tomorrow is a stage that I know by heart and always had an eye on, but I feel really wrecked after today.
I don't know whether it's the accumulation of being in four big breakaways, or the disappointment of today, but I guess we'll find out tomorrow.
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