Nicolas Roche: 'Stench of burning brake blocks and tyres skidding on hot tarmac really hit me'
Tuesday, July 23 - Stage 16: Nimes to Nimes (177km)
With a stage destined for the sprinters ahead of us this morning, the team plan was to ride for our flying Dutchman Cees Bol as the anticipated flat sprint finish suited him more than our Aussie fast man Michael Matthews.
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A big loop around Nimes saw a tailwind provide for a very fast start so after a rest day yesterday, I was happy a quintet went clear quickly and we got a bit of time to ease back into racing again.
As former world time trial champion Tony Martin settled in for another long day on the front for his sprinter Dylan Groenewegen, I had a few kilometres riding alongside my cousin Dan Martin where, after catching up on family stuff, we discussed a random variety of topics from the different flavours of energy drinks to how hard our breakaway ride together had been the other day.
Normally in a bike race there is no feeding allowed from the team cars until 50km into proceedings.
Sometimes this will be reduced to 20km if it's warm but extreme temperatures of 40 degrees this morning saw us allowed to take on extra bottles after just 5km.
I tried to remember how many bottles I drank today but after drinking six in the first hour and a half, I lost count. Fourteen would be a conservative estimate.
With about 35km to go, I decided to go back for one last round of drinks for the lads, but when I got to the car Lenny was already there taking bottles, so I took some water and seven or eight ice stockings.
On really hot days, our soigneurs cut up a pair of ladies tights, stuff them with ice cubes and then tie a knot in them for riders to stick down the back of their necks, the melting ice providing a cool trickle down their backs.
I'm don't use them as I don't like them and as I've a bit of a cold and sore throat for the past couple of days I definitely wasn't using them today.
"Hey Aike, where am I going to put these?" I asked our directeur sportif as I rode alongside the car and began to realise there were too many to carry.
"I'm not stuffing them down the front of my jersey."
"Yeah, good point. We'll put them in a musette."
The lads in the car crammed eight ice socks into a cloth feeding bag and I draped it over my neck and rode back towards the bunch.
When the guys hand musettes up to us from the side of the road, they usually tie a knot in the handle to hold it but, with no knot in the bag, the weight of the ice meant it hung down over my a**e and I felt like a postman as I tried to make my way back up to the peloton.
The pace had increased and we were on narrow roads when I rejoined the back of the bunch so despite shouting, "Service! Service!" which usually buys you a bit of space on the way back, I couldn't get any further for five or six minutes - which meant the ice was beginning to drip and I was getting a cold, wet bum.
Eventually we turned into a headwind, and a wider road allowed me get past and up to the guys.
Going through a roundabout with 28km left, though, I saw Cees on the ground with a few others.
A couple of the Astana guys dropping back to stop told me that their team leader Jakob Fuglsang, who was ninth overall, had been in the crash but I didn't know until later that it forced him out of the Tour.
Chad waited for Cees but we didn't know if they were going to make it back so we got into position with Michael for the fourth-category climb with about 20km to go.
As Quickstep forced the pace in the hope of tiring the other sprinters, I tried to keep Michael out of the wind and in a good position.
I swung off and eased up before the finale but came across another crash on the left-hand side of the road with 5km to go.
I don't know if the heat made it worse but the stench of burning rubber from brake blocks being jammed onto hot rims and tyres skidding on hot tarmac was the first thing I noticed - and I have a cold, so it must have been really strong.
As guys picked themselves up and untangled their bikes, I was glad I'd eased up a few minutes earlier.
Michael took sixth on the stage but was a bit disappointed on a sombre bus journey back to the hotel, where Cees discovered the joys of showering after a crash in the Tour de France.
Tour de France,
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