Thursday 14 December 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'With a tough weekend ahead, we could have an Irishman in yellow'

Marcel Kittel wins Stage 7 by six millimetres from Edvald Boasson Hagen. Photo: Getty Images
Marcel Kittel wins Stage 7 by six millimetres from Edvald Boasson Hagen. Photo: Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Friday, July 7 - Stage 7: Troyes to Nuits-Saint-Georges (213km)

Last night we had another crappy hotel at the side of a motorway, which meant I slept with earplugs in to try and drown out the drone of the traffic outside.

Marcel Kittel celebrates winning the stage and taking the points jersey. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Marcel Kittel celebrates winning the stage and taking the points jersey. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Another problem with staying in a different hotel every night is that most of them don't seem to have much of a budget for curtains.

They either don't meet in the middle, have gaps at the sides or are almost see-through which means the light gets in as soon as it gets bright.

Once you wake up it's very hard to go back to sleep again and when you're on the Tour, or any stage race, every second asleep is a valuable second of recovery.

I suppose it wouldn't be as bad if I hadn't left my eye mask in the first hotel we stayed in.

Before the start of this Tour a friend of mine, Philip Finegan, asked me if I wanted him to bring me over anything from Ireland, so I asked him to bring some porridge for my pre-race breakfasts, as you do.

I've been telling Richie and the guys here that Irish porridge tastes way better than the stuff the team usually use but they didn't believe me, until they tried it last week.

They liked it so much that we ran out after a couple of days, so after trying to buy it online here I chanced my arm and emailed Flahavan's to see how we could get some more.

This morning there were smiles all around at the breakfast table when the chef told us that Flahavan's had delivered enough porridge to the team hotel last night to do us for the rest of the Tour.

It's amazing how something as simple as the taste of home can make your day when you're in the middle of a race.

After a 25km transfer to the start this morning, my BMC squad were one of the first teams to arrive so instead of sitting on a stuffy team bus we all decided to go to the sign-on early.

This year, to try and encourage riders to mingle with the race guests, sponsors and VIPs, the organisation have introduced a one-way system at the sign-on, which means you have to ride into the Tour village after signing on, although if we expect a fast start or a tough day ahead, we normally just keep going and ride out the other side to warm up or have our team meeting.

Since today's start line was across the road and the pan-flat stage ahead didn't suggest a frantic start, my team-mates and I decided to go for a coffee together and spent a while chatting in the sun before lining up for another five-hour day in the saddle.

After another long neutral section, the flag dropped and four riders jumped clear immediately.

With a tailwind for the opening kilometres the sprinters' teams didn't want to give them too much of a head start so Julien Vermote of Quickstep hit the front soon after and did his usual impression of a motorbike, tipping along at 40kph on his own for the first couple of hours, even after the wind had changed onto our sides.

"How is it physically possible that no matter what direction we go we always seem to have a crosswind?" asked French rider Tony Gallopin as we rolled along.

As always, the pace increased heading towards the mid-stage intermediate sprint as the sprint teams fought to get their fast men into position to earn extra points towards the green jersey competition.

The increase in pace coincided with an increase in gradient for the first time in the day though and although it was only a drag in terms of steepness, the drag went on for around 30km and the dead roads and three-quarter headwind put about 40 riders out the back before the sprint even started.

The last 70km or so were contested on open roads with no shelter which made both the sprint teams and those of the GC contenders pretty nervous, all of us waiting for an attack to come that could potentially split the peloton into pieces and ruin our day, even our Tour.

Having been on decent roads until then, the last 30km or so were ridden on narrow country roads and it made for a very nervous finale before we turned into a tailwind with around 5km remaining.

Bunch It was my job today to give Richie (Porte) a hand to stay near the front in those last 5km but with the speed up to 70kph there was no moving up or down the bunch as everyone simply tried to hold onto the wheel in front of them as German Marcel Kittel took his third stage win, in a photo finish from Edvald Boassen Hagen, while Richie and I crossed the line inside the top 40.

We have the first week of the Tour behind us now and with Richie in fifth place overall, 39 seconds down on race leader Chris Froome, my BMC team are in a good place at the moment.

We head into the mountains again this weekend though and have a couple of seriously tough days ahead of us; days that will more than likely shake up that overall classification. The weather forecast for the weekend is rainstorms, which is going to make things even more difficult.

Tomorrow we have a first-category climb to the summit finish at the ski station of La Rousse. I've ridden up it in 2010 but apparently this year we take another road near the top which is a little bit steeper.

Sunday's stage from Nantua to Chambery is the hardest day of this Tour in my opinion. Beginning with a 16km-long second-category ascent, it contains no fewer than three Hors Category mountains on its 181.5km route. Hors Category means they're steeper and longer than any other climbs in the Tour, so this weekend will suit my climbing cousin Dan Martin.

Dan is currently fourth overall at 25 seconds, so there is the possibility we could have an Irishman in yellow by Sunday.

Just don't expect it to be me.

Tour de France,

Live, TG4, 1.10 / Eurosport, 11.0

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