Sunday 17 December 2017

Nicolas Roche: We turned into a little narrow road that had less tar on it than a pack of cigarettes

Nacer Bouhanni celebrates on the podium after winning the fourth stage of the Dauphine Criterium between Anneyron and Sisteron
Nacer Bouhanni celebrates on the podium after winning the fourth stage of the Dauphine Criterium between Anneyron and Sisteron

Nicolas Roche: Criterium du Dauphine

Wednesday June 10, Stage 4: Anneyron - Porte de DrômArdèche toSisteron, (228km)

Last night after dinner, my Sky teammates and staff gathered together to discuss our disappointing result in the team time trial, where we finished sixth and lost 35 seconds to some of our rivals for the overall classification.

Although things didn't go to plan during the stage, there was no finger-pointing or no teacups thrown. We simply had a discussion and analysed what went wrong and how to fix things for the next one, which will be at the Tour de France in July.

While losing 35 seconds to rivals Van Garderen, Nibali and Valverde puts our leader here, Chris Froome, at a disadvantage heading into the mountains, it wasn't a full-blown disaster. On some of my previous teams, I'd have been pretty happy with losing just 35 seconds in the team time trial.

While for most, today's 228km stage was all about trying to conserve energy ahead of four tough mountain stages, two riders went clear after just 3km and began to open a gap on the mainly disinterested peloton.

As the rest of us settled into the longest day on this race, the duo pushed on and after 20km had a lead of over seven minutes. This meant Dutchman Martijn Keiser, who had begun the day around three and a half minutes behind race leader Rohan Dennis of BMC, was now virtual race leader on the road.

BMC put a couple of guys on the front and began to slowly bring the lead down although there was no real panic. I found myself able to have a quick chat with my cousin Dan Martin, who began the day just eight seconds and three places behind me in 28th overall.

As we rolled along, conversation turned to tomorrow's opening mountain stage which is a replica of stage 17 of this year's Tour de France and ends at the ski resort of Pra Loup.

"Do you remember we did that training camp together in Barcelonette a few years ago and we spent a week riding up and down those climbs?" asked Dan. We reminisced for a while about long sweltering days spent climbing mountains, evenings spent eating al fresco and shooting the breeze and nights spent dreaming of Grand Tour glory, before we began to put a date on things.

"I was only a first year pro with Cofidis and you were still an amateur with VC La Pomme," I reminded him. "You know that's ten years ago now!"

"No way!"

Although we've both won stages of Grand Tours since then and hopefully both have a few more good years left in the pro peloton, we drifted apart a few kilometres later feel ing just that little bit older.

A rain shower as we approached the third and fourth category climbs of Col de Lescou and Col de Pre-Guittard after 123km, saw my young American team-mate Ian Boswell sent back to the team car for rain capes. Having begun the stage in an 'aero' jersey, the lightest jersey we have, I didn't want to catch cold on the descent but the fact that I'd left my short sleeve cape in the other team car meant I had to roll my sleeves up to let a bit of air at my arms on the way up.

The two climbs did little to dampen the spirits of the two escapees, however, and they still had over six minutes as we began to descend.

I took off my rain cape when the rain stopped in the last 80km or so only to notice that my race numbers, which I had stuck onto the aero jersey, were beginning to peel off and I was forced to drift back to the team car, where the mechanic leaned out the window and stuck a pin in each one to make sure I didn't get fined for finishing with no numbers on my jersey.

As the day wore on, the numbers started to flap in the wind and upon spotting this, my Letterkenny room-mate, Philip Deignan, couldn't resist riding over to take the piss.

"Not much use in wearin' an aero jersey and havin' your numbers flapping around like a parachute is there?"

Although today's stage end looked suited to a sprint finish, the problem at this Dauphine is that most of the stages are so mountainous there are only three or four sprinters here, which means there are less teams willing to take up the chase early on a flat day.

With Lampre's fastman Sacha Modolo already gone home, only Cofidis and MTN Qhubeka were willing to put riders on the front when it became apparent that the gap wasn't coming down quick enough in the last 50km or so.

Things got pretty hectic as we approached the fourth category Cote de la Marquisse with 14km to go and turned onto a little narrow road with less tar on it than a packet of cigarettes.

The descent was full of potholes and bumps and with the breakaways almost caught, the attacks began to fly as we rattled our way down it.

Dangermen Julian Alafillipe of Astana (12th) and 2014 Tour de France champion Nibali (4th) were two of those who attacked in vain in a chaotic run-in.

I was badly placed on the narrow road, but luckily, Luke and Pete were able to control things a bit before the finish and none of us lost any time as Nacer Bouhanni of Cofidis took his second bunch sprint victory.

Criterium du Dauphine,

Live Eurosport, 1.30

Irish Independent

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