Saturday 21 September 2019

Nicolas Roche: The brute is so steep that I've seen riders reduced to walking up it

Giro d'Italia Diary

Ireland's Sam Bennett celebrates during the week. Photo: Getty Images
Ireland's Sam Bennett celebrates during the week. Photo: Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Friday, May 18 - Stage 13: Ferrar to Nervesa della Battaglia (180kms)

Although my BMC team were staying in the same hotel as Sam Bennett's Bora Hansgrohe team last night, I didn't get to see him at all.

Usually the only time you see other riders is at mealtimes or if you meet them by accident in the lift or lobby, but Sam's squad have their own kitchen truck here while our own team chef takes over the hotel kitchen and we eat separately so I had to make do with sending him a congratulatory text after his stage win.

After an hour's drive to the start town this morning we had a 3km ride to the official start in the city centre, where the sun was shining and the scenery, once again, was pretty spectacular.

With a long flat day ahead of us, there wasn't much to be gained by going in a breakaway that everyone expected to be chased down by the sprinters' teams before the finish, so I thought the first attack of the day would stay clear as most people tried to save their energy for the tough weekend ahead.

Although that wasn't quite the case, five riders went clear after about 15 minutes and we coasted along behind them in the breeze.

I eventually got to congratulate Sam as we rode along and we had a four- or five-minute chat about it before we went back to our respective team-mates.

With a three-quarter tailwind behind us, the sprint teams of Bora Hansgrohe, Quick-Step and others didn't let them get more than three-and-a-half minutes and although we were moving at round 45kph most of the time, today seemed very drawn out and I remember looking at my computer after an hour and thinking, 'Surely we've been racing longer than that!'

One of the first world problems of being a professional cyclist is the amount of fluids you have to drink on a daily basis. Of course, the more you drink, the more you need to pee, which can be an issue if the race has going at 50kph for the past three hours.

While you can always pull the front of your shorts down and go on the move if necessary, this creates its own problems; the phrase 'p***ing in the wind' comes to mind.

The best way is to actually stop at the side of the road.

The problem with stopping is you have to correlate how fast the bunch are going, how long it's going to take you, and how many others have stopped at the same time.

The more riders that stop together the easier it is to work together to get back on.

If the race leader or some of the big names stop, then you're usually safe enough.

There are other things to consider though.

With crowds all along the roadside most days, finding a quiet spot to go is becoming increasingly difficult and you don't want to accidentally find yourself on somebody's phone or video camera. Today, like many others, I needed a pee after the feed zone, 100km into the stage, but couldn't find anywhere quiet for maybe 20km.

Just as a group of us pulled in at the side of the road for our call of nature, however, the pace ramped up maybe 5kph as we headed towards the second intermediate sprint and despite chasing at 55kph, it took us a full 10km to regain contact.

The peloton let Bardiani rider Paulo Simion hover just off the front so that he could wave to his family and friends as we went through his home town with 73km to go, although the eager sprint trains swallowed him back up before we got out the other side.

The pace really ramped up with 40km to go and the five escapees were finally reeled in with just 6km left on the stage.

In the much-anticipated sprint to the line, Sam got caught at the back of the group and had to come the long way around but managed to get second on the stage as Elia Viviani took his tally to three wins here.

It was a very different gallop today, with a full on headwind and while Viviani was well hidden on the wheels on the inside, Sam was in the wind very early.

Still, he finished very fast to snatch second on the line and is well capable of winning another stage if he gets a chance.

First, though, we all have to get through one hell of a weekend in the mountains.

Tomorrow we finish on one of cycling's iconic climbs, the 10km brute that is Mont Zoncolan.

It's so steep that I've seen riders reduced to walking up it before so there could be big changes in the overall standings again.

Giro d'Italia,

Live, Eurosport 1, 12.0

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