Sunday 18 March 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'The run-in was pretty straightforward until I heard an almighty bang behind me'

Nicolas Roche's Tour de France diary

Michael Rogers of Nicolas Roche’s Saxo-Tinkoff team celebrates his stage victory
in Bagneres-de-Luchon. GETTY
Michael Rogers of Nicolas Roche’s Saxo-Tinkoff team celebrates his stage victory in Bagneres-de-Luchon. GETTY

Nicolas Roche

Tuesday July 22, Stage 16: Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon (237.5km)

After yesterday's rest day, we had an early 7.30 breakfast this morning before a bit of a drive to the start. With a strong headwind facing us as we left Carcassonne on the longest stage of this year's Tour, it took almost 75km for the break of the day to get clear.

There were the usual non-stop attacks up until then, though, and the team plan today was to try and have two men in the break if, as expected, a big group of about 15 riders got away.

I had a few goes off the front myself and a few times thought I'd made the right move, only to turn around and see some team or another drilling it at the front of the peloton and bringing us back.

There were groups of five or six going clear all over the place. The problem was that everybody felt strong sitting in the shelter of the wheels, but as soon as you jumped out into the wind to attack it was like hitting a wall and it made it very hard for any move to stay clear.

Having won stage 14 last Saturday, my young Polish team-mate Rafal Majka began today in second place and level on points with Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha in the King of the Mountains competition.

As we rode up the first climb of the day, the Cote de Fanjeaux, Rafal found himself near the front of the peloton with Sergio Paulinho alongside him.

Sergio pulled hard to get him into a good position at the top where Rafal sprinted to take the only point on offer for the fourth-category ascent and take over the lead of the competition.

It was a great move because neither Rodriguez or any of the other contenders in the mountains competition managed to score any points on the remainder of the stage so Rafal will now wear the polka-dot jersey tomorrow.

Over the top, there were four or five of us in a big group of about 30 riders.

I had a few more attacks on the long plateau afterwards before Michael Rogers got into a group of six and opened up a decent gap.

After a brief lull, the Garmin Sharp team, who had missed the move, went flat out on the front of the peloton and put us all in the gutter, splitting the bunch in three.

They narrowed the gap to about 20 seconds but couldn't close it so there were more attacks and a few more groups of riders jumped across to Michael's group, making it 21 men up front.

With Garmin Sharp happy enough to have Tom Jelte Slagter in the break, most of the other teams represented and with nobody of any danger to their leader Vincenzo Nibali's yellow jersey, the Astana team eventually took control of the peloton and seemed content to give the escapees a bit of leeway.

As Michael's group began to build what would become a maximum lead of over 12 minutes, it soon became apparent that we wouldn't be seeing them again before the end of the stage.

With over six hours of racing to do and all our hopes pinned on Michael, my team-mates and I all took turns to go back for bottles during the day and simply tried to save our legs as much as possible for the rest of the week.

As Michael went clear with four others on the final climb, the summit of which came 20km from the finish, the peloton hit the bottom about nine minutes behind them and the overall contenders began to attack each other in an effort to gain time.


For me, there was nothing to be gained by riding flat out up the Porte de Bales today, but at the same time, I didn't want to ride up it in the last group either so I found myself in a group of about 10 riders with Richie Porte of Sky, Jan Barta of NetApp Endura and others.

Richie rode on the front of the group with me on his wheel and he kept a good tempo to the finish.

Although technical, the run-in to the finish was pretty straightforward until about 3km to go when I heard an almighty bang behind me.

Apparently, the Belkin team car had been trying to overtake our group on their way to the finish but one of the guys must have moved into his path and the car ended up knocking over one or two riders behind me.

About 250m before the line, I glanced up at the big screen to see a replay of Michael crossing the line for his first Tour de France stage win.

Having ridden most of the break off his wheel on the last climb, my Aussie room-mate attacked the remaining four riders in the last 5km on the descent to the finish.

It's my Tinkoff-Saxo team's second stage win and a brilliant victory for Michael after 10 years of trying.

He picked the right move to be in today and the climb suited him perfectly.

Having shown his descending and time-trialling skills when he won a stage of the Giro d'Italia into Savona in May, we knew that with a technical 20km descent to the finish today he would be hard to beat once he got in the right breakaway group.

As he is travelling in the team car to the hotel, I haven't seen Michael yet, but Rafal is back on the bus after a successful visit to the podium today to pick up his polka-dot jersey.

It must have taken it out of him though as he's already asleep as we make our way across the Pyrenean border to Spain and our next hotel.

We have another hard 124km stage tomorrow to the summit of hors-category climb Pla d'Adet and, while it's not as long as today, with three first-category mountains before it hits the summit finish, I think it could do a lot of damage to the overall standings as some of the lower paced GC riders won't be afraid to attack from a bit further from the finish.

Maybe it's time I joined Rafal and had a bit of a snooze too.



Irish Independent

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