Nicolas Roche: 'The welcome I received in Belfast gave me goosebumps'
Thursday, May 8, Belfast: Team Presentation
Although I've been doing this diary for a few years now, I've never actually got to see it printed in the paper on the day of publication as I'm always racing abroad.
This morning though, the Irish Independent was on the breakfast table in the hotel and it was nice to be able to actually see it in print, even if my young Aussie team-mate Jay McCarthy slagged me that I had breached his copyright by using the photo that he took of me at the cycling mural yesterday.
With the team time-trial opener tomorrow evening, my Tinkoff-Saxo team were initially due to train on our time-trial bikes on the nearby dual carriageway this morning, but there was so much traffic around that we hopped into the team cars instead and drove for a half an hour to get out of the city.
As we drove, it started to rain and my Wicklow-born team-mate Chris Juul-Jensen turned to me, laughing.
"Why is it that every time there's something big being televised live from Ireland it pours rain? People think it always rains in Ireland and this isn't going to help."
We both know what a beautiful place Ireland can be when the sun shines and, even though I was half expecting rain here, it's always disappointing to actually get constant drizzle any time we touch our bikes. It's been pretty cold too, but hopefully it will brighten up when the race starts.
With nine men riding in tandem for the duration of the stage and the fifth man over the line to count as the team's recorded time, the team time trial is a complicated race and today we were trying to get things in order ahead of tomorrow's opening stage.
We have some riders on the team for this Giro who haven't yet ridden a team time trial as a professional. We also have three riders doing their first Grand Tour, so this morning I, former world time-trial champion Mick Rogers and the directeur sportifs took our time and tried to give the younger guys a bit of advice.
We stopped a few times to explain the technique, how to ride on the front and how to drift down the line and get the best shelter available and recover in between turns at the front. None of them are really time-trial specialists but even so, every one of them are really focused and excited about getting going.
After two and a half hours, we hopped back into the team cars and went back to the hotel for lunch, a quick nap and massage before the evening's team presentation at City Hall. My grandparents and some family and friends arrived at the hotel today and it was nice to be able to relax with them and have a chat about non-cycling stuff.
There's a special atmosphere in the build-up to a Grand Tour and it's great watching Jay and how excited he is about riding the Giro. Jay was only drafted into the team on Monday when our Colombian climber Edward Beltran couldn't get a visa.
It's his first Grand Tour and when you're a bike rider, you want to turn pro to ride these races. Instead of arriving the night before and jumping on the bike for the first stage, at a Grand Tour you're at the start three days before.
I'm starting my 12th Grand Tour and the welcome I received at the team presentation at City Hall truly gave me goosebumps. I actually think the buzz I got tonight when they called my Tinkoff-Saxo team to the stage will beat anything else in the next three weeks.
As the guys walked ahead, I was left to cycle up the rampart alone and got a huge reception from the crowd. It left me humbled and a bit speechless as only a real Irish welcome can. Maybe I will have butterflies like that again on the start ramp but when you're fully concentrated on the stage ahead you don't always hear the crowd.
I'm a bit lost as to how the form is going to be over the next few weeks but nevertheless, in my mind, I'm here and set to be riding for a decent position overall at the end of the three weeks. I'd be disappointed not to be in the top 10 by the end of the Giro, bearing in mind that if I was preparing for the Tour of Spain I would probably aim higher again.
But it's a different type of year. I've realised over the years that I come into peak form in August and have this natural cycle where I kind of struggle with the early part of the year.
Usually, I know I can hit peak form every year for the Vuelta, so changing everything to try and be in good form here for the Giro was a bit risky.
But I've done everything I could to get here in good shape. I have expectations of myself and the team have too but there is no real reference point for me as to how it will go.
All of the teams will check out the time-trial route in the morning. The roads close from 10.0 to 12.0 so that we can all ride the course and check it out. We will be on the road at 10.0. Give us a wave if you see us.
GIRO D'ITALIA, LIVE, EUROSPORT, 5.30