Wednesday 21 August 2019

Nicolas Roche: 'My left side was on fire from sliding across the hot tar at 70kph'

Tour de France Diary

Thursday, July 25 - Stage 18:  Embrun to Valloire (200km)

Nairo Quintana celebrates his stage win in Valloire for the Movistar team. Photo: AP Photo/ Thibault Camus
Nairo Quintana celebrates his stage win in Valloire for the Movistar team. Photo: AP Photo/ Thibault Camus

Nicolas Roche

After being in the breakaway all day yesterday, I wasn't feeling great this morning and a savage opening 60km did nothing to make me feel any better, so I was delighted when the peloton eventually eased up and gave 33 escapees their head.

After that, things were going well until the descent of the Col de Vars after about 100km, where I suddenly hit the tarmac on a left hander at about 70kph.

Slovenian Jan Tratnik fell first, flipping over the handlebars and landing in front of me. It wasn’t his fault as his front wheel got stuck in a random crack, like a tram line, in the tarmac and he came down.

It happened so fast that I was on the ground in a flash, with Kiwi George Bennett on top of me, and I sat there for a few seconds wondering what the hell had just happened.

As Bennett disentangled himself, Michael Valgren of Dimension Data was jammed between me and a little wall at the edge of the road after skidding to a halt right behind me.

The Dane leaned over me. “Nico, are you OK? Nico, are you OK?”

I could understand what he was saying but I was too stunned to reply. When I picked myself up, my left side was on fire from sliding across the hot tar at 70kph, my hand hurt like hell and my bike was 30 metres away on the far side of the road and pretty banged up.

Our team car was number 21 today, so I had a bit of a wait before hopping on a replacement bike.

My first thoughts were that I needed to get back into the bunch quickly or I’d be riding the Col d’Izoard and the Col du Galibier on my own and could be outside the time limit.

After crashing on the descent though, my first two or three corners immediately after it weren’t great as I was absolutely bricking it.

When I got up to the last car in the cavalcade behind the peloton 10km later, the roads were pretty twisty so I was able to jump from car to car and then I was lucky that the feed zone was in the valley at the bottom and some of the peloton decided to stop for a pee.

Michael Matthews had stopped when he heard I was coming and helped me back into the bunch.

In the crash, I had broken the ratchet that tightens my left shoe, so when the pace settled down again I dropped back to the car to change my shoes on the move.

Alongside the car, I took off one shoe while pedalling with the other foot. Our directeur sportif handed me my spare shoe, which he had opened as wide as possible, as if I was a kid trying on a new pair, and I pulled it on, clipped it in and tightened it before repeating the process with the other foot and rejoining the peloton.

By then we were at the bottom of the Hors catégorie Izoard and I was swinging off the back.

But when the climb started, instead of sitting up with the grupetto of non-climbers and taking it easy, I fought hard to stay in the peloton for as long as I could on the 15km mountain.

The grupetto might climb slowly but they descend like kamikazes, so I was worried about not being able to follow them on the descent. I wanted to be four or five minutes ahead of them by the time we got to the 25km long Galibier in case I got into trouble and needed a bit of sliding room.

Michael kept coming back to see if I was OK, and his constant encouragement on the Galibier really kept me going, as did a huge group of Orwell Wheelers from Dundrum at the roadside.

Ritual

After finishing safely in a big group 28 minutes behind stage winner Nairo Quintana, I waited until the other guys were done showering before I slinked in and began the post-crash ritual of scrubbing the grit out of my cuts.

I had loads of little chippings caught in my wrist and fingers. Both of my mitts were completely destroyed but at least they protected my palms. I wouldn’t be able to start tomorrow if I hadn’t worn them.

After that, the steady hand of the team doctor was made very jittery by the hairpins on the Col du Telegraphe and he stung me with every application of antiseptic.

I was hoping to recover today and maybe give it a shot to get up the road tomorrow, but between my cough, the tiredness of being in the breakaway yesterday and my crash, today was a bit of a nightmare.

I will probably look like a mummy on the bike tomorrow, but it could have been a lot worse.

Tour de France,

Live, TG4, 12.35/Eurosport 1, 1.35

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