Saturday 16 December 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'We'll have unexpected advantage in time trial'

Great Britain's Peter Kennaugh celebrates his overall leader's yellow jersey on the podium at the end of the 131.5 km first stage of the 67th edition of the Dauphine Criterium cycling race yesterday
Great Britain's Peter Kennaugh celebrates his overall leader's yellow jersey on the podium at the end of the 131.5 km first stage of the 67th edition of the Dauphine Criterium cycling race yesterday

Nicolas Roche

Monday, June 8 Stage 2: Le Bourget-du-Lac to Villars de Dombes (173km)

As yesterday's stage was over pretty early in the day, we had plenty of time to toast Pete Kennaugh's fantastic opening stage win with a glass of champagne at dinner afterwards.

Pete's victory also gave him the yellow jersey of race leader, so he was doubly delighted to be leading such a prestigious race.

After dinner we left the sweltering confines of the hotel to watch our former team-mate Brad Wiggins' set a new world hour record on the big screen of the air-conditioned team bus.

While watching somebody ride around in circles on a track for an hour may not be everybody's cup of tea, I could only admire Wiggo's ability to not only put out the kind of power needed to cover over 54.5km in that time but to be able to hold his aero position for so long.

In a time trial, I can barely manage ten minutes without wanting to stand up or even just stretch my neck or back or something but Wiggo never flinched, even when he began to tire near the end.

A huge thunderstorm cleared the air before we disembarked the bus and at least made sleep a bit more bearable last night.

While we began the stage with Pete in yellow today, we were also wary of tomorrow's looming team time trial and spent a few minutes this morning pondering how we could control today's stage, which began with a 3km climb to the top of the second-category Col du Chat.

While we wanted to defend the yellow jersey this morning, we didn't want to kill the team by spending all day on the front of the peloton and then have nothing left for the all-important race against the clock tomorrow.

As it turned out, things went pretty well for us. Three riders went clear on the opening climb and, with one eye on the team time trial, most other teams were keen to save energy too and let them go.

When the trio got over five minutes ahead after about 30km, we put our young American Ian Boswell and my Donegal room-mate Philip Deignan on the front of the peloton and the duo controlled the chase tempo with the rest of us tucked in behind them.

'Boz' punctured on the slopes of the first-category Col du Cuvery after 65km, and knowing that he would be keen to get back to the front and continue setting the pace, I pinched the little microphone inside my jersey and radioed back to him.

"Okay Boz, don't panic. We have everything under control. Don't kill yourself getting back on. Try and save a bit of energy and just gradually make your way up through the bunch."

By then, the Lampre and Cofidis teams had put men on the front, keen to bring back the breakaways and set up a bunch sprint for their respective fastmen Sacha Modolo and Nacer Bouhanni.


When the gap closed to just over a minute and a half with around 40km to go, a headwind told us the break would struggle to stay away and the pace in the bunch eased slightly, so I took the opportunity to stop for a pee. On my way back up through the cars, I grabbed a couple of bottles from our directeur sportif and gave one each to Philip and Ian Stannard before resuming my position in the line of Sky riders sitting behind the sprinters' henchmen.

There was a lot of changes in the wind direction in the last 40km, making it hard to hold a good position near the front so when Lampre and Cofidis suddenly got swamped and disappeared with around 5km to go, my Welsh team-mate Luke Rowe hit the front to keep Froomey out of trouble before the sprinters reappeared to contest the stage.

In the end, Frenchman Bouhanni of Cofidis won the stage ahead of compatriot Sammy Damoulin of Ag2r and Modolo.

Pete held onto his yellow jersey for another day, but his advantage has been cut to just two seconds on Italian sprinter Modolo ahead of tomorrow's team time trial, where the overall classification will surely change as the contenders show their hands for the first time.

While individual time trials are not my forte, riding flat out against the clock as a member of a team is one of my favourite facets of the sport.

Tomorrow is our last go at this speciality before the Tour and I think we have a good team here for the stage.

It had always been earmarked as an important day in our efforts to win this race overall with Froomey and now, with Pete in yellow, we will have the unexpected advantage of leaving the start ramp last and knowing the other teams' times while out on the road.

While we won our most recent team time trial, at the Tour of Romandie, it came just days after I crashed out of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic and I was far from at my best. The after-effects of that spill saw me get dropped by the guys before the finish, so I want to make up for that with a good ride tomorrow.

Criterium du Dauphine,

Live, ITV4/Eurosport, 12.15

Irish Independent

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