Nicolas Roche: The boys did top job to keep Froomey's Tour de France lead intact
TOUR DE FRANCE DIARY
Thursday, July 16 - Stage 12: Lannemazen to Plateau de Beille (195km)
As we've been staying in the same hotel in Pau for the past three nights, I haven't had to pack my suitcase before the stage start since Monday, which is always an added bonus.
Some of the other guys like to pack their bags before breakfast, arriving down with their race backpack and hopping straight onto the bus afterwards but this morning I was up at 7.30, ate breakfast before packing my case and even had time to watch a bit of TV before hopping on the bus at 8.45 for the hour and 20 minute drive to the start in Lannemezan.
While we did a pre-Tour recon of today's Hors Category summit finish at Plateau de Beille a while back, we watched a video of the last time the Tour finished there in 2011 on the way to the start to refresh our memory.
It was obvious as soon as the flag dropped this morning that the Lotto-Soudal team wanted the peloton to stay together until the intermediate sprint, 20km into the stage, so that their German sprinter Andre Greipel could contest the points on offer.
The Belgian squad set a hard enough pace to dissuade any attacks and Greipel duly outsprinted points leader Peter Sagan at the line to claw his way nearer to the green jersey.
As expected, though, the attacks came straight after. Today we opted not to chase every move like we did yesterday and Lieuwe Westra of Astana, Europcar's Bryan Coquard and Louis Meintjes of MTN Qhubeka were the first three to jump clear.
They were soon followed by two more groups and within a few kilometres there were 22 riders up the road with Luke (Rowe) and Yogi (Ian Stannard) assuming their positions at the front of the peloton safe in the knowledge that the best-placed rider in the move was 20 minutes down on Froomey's (Chris Froome) race lead.
Although they may not be praised much or even noticed doing it, Luke and Yogi do such an important job every day to save the rest of the team so that we can be fresh if we're needed in the latter part of the stages.
Today the duo rode at the front of the peloton for well over 100km and set the pace on both the second-category Col de Portet-d'Aspet and the first-category Col de la Core. After riding down the descent of the latter, they were still there when we hit the penultimate climb of the Port de Lers after 131km.
With their work done as we began the 15km-long first-category climb, the duo eased up as Wout Poels and Leo Konig took over at the bottom, where the plan was to up the pace a little and maybe even whittle the field down a bit without killing ourselves.
Wout and Leo did a great job on the climb before Pete (Kennaugh) led us down the descent as it started raining.
With patches of gravel on some of the corners we just wanted to get down it safely and weren't worried at all about the breakaway group's 10-minute lead.
We then had a big wide valley road to contend with and lots of other teams began to move up to the front as we approached the final climb.
The pace got more frenetic as each team tried to get ahead of the other coming into the climb - as if the 17km ascent didn't give them enough opportunity to do so.
With Wout and Leo having done their job, Pete led us onto the climb with myself, Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas and Froomey lined up behind him.
A few kilometres into the slope however, the Tinkoff-Saxo duo of Rafal Majka and Roman Kreuziger came past us and upped the pace and the pressure at the front soon saw Pete swing off, shortly followed by me, with about 11km to go.
At that point we still had two very strong guys with Froomey and there was no point in me trying to hang on for a few more kilometres just to get on TV when I could save my legs a bit for the following day's workload.
A few dropped riders came past me, trying to get back onto the group but I just kept going at my own tempo, eventually catching Majka and Kreuziger after they had done their turns at the front.
About 5km from the top, another little group caught us and we finished about 10 minutes behind Froomey's group, who in turn finished almost seven minutes behind Spanish stage winner Joaquin Rodriguez of Katusha.
While there were a few attacks near the top, G (Geraint Thomas) and Richie did a great job on the last climb to bring them all back and keep Froomey's overall lead intact, with G also holding onto his fifth place overall.
At the finish, the rain saw the temperature drop from over 30 degrees to around 12 so our team carer had found a big porch with a roof overhead, where I wiped myself down with a towel before putting on a new dry undervest, a heavy rain jacket, leg warmers, long gloves and a woolly winter hat ahead of the long descent back down to the team bus.
Even though I was well wrapped up it was pretty cold going as we weaved our way down through the spectators but a hot shower on the bus soon sorted that out.
With the bus well blocked into the car park, though, myself and Richie jumped into one of the team cars after grabbing a bite to eat so that we could beat the guys to massage on the hour-and-a-half-drive to our next hotel.
For the past couple of days I've been keeping an eye on another Tour, the Junior Tour of Ireland, where my brother Alexis and his friend Nathan are riding for my Magnet.ie junior team. They've been doing pretty well so far, and I just got news that Alexis has helped Nathan to his second stage victory today.
My dad reckons Alexis is the best cyclist in the family, so keep an eye out for him around Clare this week.
Tour de France,
Live, TG4/Eurosport/ITV4, 1.10