Wednesday 17 January 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'Numb from the news of Richie's crash, the mood in the team is sombre'

BMC leader Richie Porte is tended to by race medics after his crash. Photo: Getty Images
BMC leader Richie Porte is tended to by race medics after his crash. Photo: Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Saturday, July 8, Stage 8: Dole to La Rousse Ski Station (187km)

Last month, my team-mates and I rode the Criterium du Dauphine, a week-long stage race that usually produces a winner who goes on to do very well at the Tour

The cracked helmet of Daniel Martin. Photo: Getty Images
The cracked helmet of Daniel Martin. Photo: Getty Images

At the Dauphine, my team leader Richie Porte finished second overall, despite being the strongest rider in the race - his inability to win it was mainly due to myself and the rest of the team leaving him isolated on the final climb.

With the second mountain-top finish of this year's Tour ahead of us this morning, we didn't want the same thing to happen again so the game-plan was to get a few guys up the road in the early breakaway.

It's always easier to have riders drop back from the front of the race if needed than have them try and bridge across after a hard chase. Plus, if the break stays away, then there was always the chance somebody could win the stage.

Usually on stages like today a group of strong all-rounders, or rouleurs, get away and Greg van Avermaet was our main hope.

When he went clear in a good group on the opening climb after 30km we thought the move was going to be the one to stay away until Sunweb lit things up behind in order to get their sprinter Michael Matthews to the intermediate sprint at the front to earn some points for the green jersey.

With the group caught 15km later, Matthews took third in the sprint, Sunweb eased up and everyone started attacking again. Soon there was a huge group up the road containing me and three of my BMC team-mates, Mickey Schar, Damiano Caruso and Greg.

Cohesion

Because there were 45 of us up front though, everyone had different interests. Some were going for the stage win, some were chasing mountains points and others were just waiting for their team leaders to bridge across later on, so there was no cohesion.

Constant attacking saw the group split and reform numerous times before Greg went away again with three others on the second-category Cote de Viry after 130km.

The Direct Energie guys in my half of the split chased hard and as we neared the back of the group I followed another move across to the front, giving us two men in a new eight-man breakaway.

With 40km left, we had three minutes' lead on the peloton but with Sky driving the chase after us, we only had half that by the time we hit the last climb 30km later.

When Greg got dropped with 20km to go I attacked to try and put pressure on the rest of the group. Serge Pauwels followed and 2km later Lilian Calmejane and Robert Gesink came across.

As I had been on the front for a long time, I tried to force Pauwels and Gesink to chase when Calmejane opened a gap on a hairpin soon after, but when they didn't close the gap in a minute or two I knew I had to go after him.

Though I made it to within 10 metres of Calmejane, I had put myself into the red and with 15km to go Gesink caught and counter-attacked me, leaving me alone with nothing to do but try and maintain my pace and hope the peloton didn't catch me.

A guy from Wanty-Groupe caught me on the plateau on top and shared a much-needed gel with me in the last 10 kilometres. With Sky closing in on us rapidly behind, we rode together to the line where we just managed to hold them off. I didn't make up any time but fourth on the stage meant at least I didn't go away empty handed.

Tomorrow is the biggest and baddest stage of this year's Tour, with three Hors Category climbs en route to Chambery, where the French Ag2r team have their base and will be keen to do something. The final climb of Mont du Chat will be tough but the 20km into Chambery could do as much damage, especially if it rains.

Read more: Martin survives as Uran takes spoils

Sunday, July 9, Stage 9: Nantua to Chambery (181km)

With our pre-stage aims pretty much the same as yesterday, Amael Moinard and Alessandro di Marchi were in a group of 35 riders that pulled clear on the second-category climb after just a few kilometres this morning, while I was a bit worried about how tired my legs were after yesterday's efforts.

With Ag2r's Alexis Vuillermoz and Carlos Betancur of Movistar starting the day just over three minutes behind race leader Chris Froome, Sky took up the chase immediately, holding them at three minutes for a long time.

We lost a bit of time on the Col du Biche after 60km, before Ag2r hit the turbo on the wet sinewy descent. They were taking a good few risks on the wet roads and as we rounded one of the bends, I had just about time to brake as Geraint Thomas, Rafal Majka and Alberto Contador hit the deck about ten riders in front of me.

Alberto rolled and bounced back onto his bike but 'G' looked in pain as I went by.

The crash split the peloton and with only Danilo Wyss up ahead with Richie, Damiano and I chased to get back up to help him, regaining contact with the overall contenders' group at the foot of the Colombiere after 82km.

I was suffering as the last wheel of the group when the attacks started again and, paying for my efforts from yesterday, I let the wheel go and spent most of the 10km climb in the cars just behind them.

A minute down at the top, I was alongside French climber Romain Sicard and thought we'd make it back on the descent. But when we got to the bottom we had lost time and were caught by a dozen or so riders in the valley.

Up front, I could hear that Amael and then Alessandro had dropped back from the break to help Richie but from then on I was too far back to get a signal on my team radio.

When a bigger group containing Greg, Mickey, Danilo and Stefan caught us on the Monte du Chat, with 20km left, I could hear our directeur talking to Richie in the front group and telling him the gap to lone leader Warren Barguil was down to 40 seconds but a few minutes later, some guy at the side of the road shouted 'Porte abandonne, Porte abandonne!', which left me a bit confused.

As far as I knew, Richie was flying in the front group but one of the guys beside me told me that he'd crashed along with my cousin Dan Martin on the descent - which made for a miserable ride to the finish, where it was confirmed that Richie is out of the race.

On the bus afterwards, the mood was pretty sombre. We were so numb from the news that we could barely muster the enthusiasm for a shower.

Everything was in slow motion and if we hadn't been rushed to the airport for our post stage transfer we'd probably be sitting around moping still.

We've a 40-minute flight to Bergerac now and all I know is that Richie was conscious and was able to move his legs, which is a good sign at least.

With Thomas, Jos Van Emden and Gesink also crashing out today and seven riders, including the green jersey wearer Arnaud de Mare, finishing outside the time limit, it's been a horrible stage.

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