Friday 15 November 2019

Nicolas Roche: 'Racing is racing. Gentlemen's agreements don't make sense'

Monday July 17 Rest Day: Saint-Étienne

Yellow jersey leader Team Sky rider Chris Froome
Yellow jersey leader Team Sky rider Chris Froome
Team Sky manager David Brailsford during yesterday’s rest day. Photo: Reuters/Robert Pratta

Nicolas Roche

Although tomorrow's stage will start in the same town as yesterday's finish, we were one of the unlucky teams who had a two-and-a-half-hour drive to our hotel last night, which means we will have the same before the stage 16 start tomorrow morning.

Usually upon arriving at our hotel, the riders split into two groups for dinner, depending on who goes to massage first but as today is a rest day, we all decided to shorten our time on the massage table last night to eat dinner together and have a bit of a chat.

Being a chef at dinner on the Tour de France must be a bit like being on 'Ready Steady Cook', except when you open the bag every day you get pasta and rice and have to come up with something different from the last day.

In fairness, our chef here has been brilliant but when he brought a couple of home-made pizzas to the table last night it was as if we were all excited school kids eating sweets before our dinner and the slices weren't long disappearing.

Although I've been a bit sick the last few days, and spent a night or two quarantined in a room on my own, I was supposed to move back in with Amael last night but the rooms here only have a double bed and a sofa bed in them so I'm on my own again for a couple of days.

With no room-mate to chat to and no energy to wander around looking for people, it's been a pretty quiet, dare I say it, boring day.

After trying to stay in bed as long as possible this morning, I made it to 8.30 before giving in and going down for breakfast.

At 10.30 the whole team went out for a two-hour training spin where we were joined by former Canadian pro and yellow jersey at the Tour Steve Bauer, who is working for one of our team sponsors, Tag Heuer, on the race.

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After the obligatory coffee stop in the sun, I had lunch before taking a one-hour nap this afternoon and then later waking up to answer a few emails I hadn't got around to and pay a few bills.

Usually the rest day on the Tour de France is busy for riders' agents as they try to finalise contracts for the upcoming season. Although I'm not on the lookout for a new team, my agents Andrew McQuaid and Jamie Barlow were in the area today and dropped in for a chat.

One of the topics we talked about was the whole race etiquette of waiting for the yellow jersey if he crashes, punctures or has a mechanical.

To be honest, I think most of it is a load of crap and it seems the 'rules' or 'gentleman's agreement' are very vague about who you wait for and who you don't.

When a stall is called for, it's usually in the interests of whoever calls for it, and, to me, punctures and crashes are all part of cycling.

OK, maybe I've never been in the yellow jersey but I know nobody is going to wait for me or even Dan, who is fifth overall now, if anything happens to us.

I remember Fabian Cancellara getting the whole peloton to slow down after a crash on a wet stage of the Tour de France in Belgium a few years ago, but only because his team-mates the Schleck brothers were among those who had crashed.

Last week there was uproar when Fabio Aru attacked Chris Froome as soon as he put his hand up with a mechanical difficulty, but yet nobody waited for Tom Dumoulin when he was caught short and had to stop to go to the loo while in the pink jersey during the Giro.

That was only a month or two ago, so what has changed?

The problem is there are no rules governing 'gentlemanly conduct' and until there are, there's always going to be controversy.

To me, puncturing, dropping your chain, whatever, it's all part of racing.

We seem to be the only sport that has such a vague agreement, if you can class it that.

With six days left on this Tour, there's still a lot of racing to be done, for those in the hunt for overall glory and the rest of us.

With just over a minute between the top five on GC, race leader Froome's team-mate Mikel Landa looks to be one of the strongest in the race but Froomey's fightback from a puncture yesterday showed he is still very much team leader.

With two hard mountain stages to come on Thursday and Friday, second-placed Aru and third-placed Romain Bardet will have to attack if they want to take yellow while fourth-placed Rigoberto Uran and fifth-placed Dan could end up on the podium.

As there are only a handful of riders who can realistically win Saturday's time trial or Sunday's finale on the Champs Elysees, everybody else knows they have only four days to get a precious stage win and my BMC team have no choice but to go on the attack.

Like a lot of teams here, a stage win would save our Tour.

We've been close a couple of times but we're two weeks into the Tour, time is ticking by and we still haven't reached our goals.

Tour de France, Live Eurosport 12.15, TG4 12.35, ITV4 12.30

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