Tuesday 24 October 2017

Nicolas Roche World Championship Diary: Two guys touched wheels and brought Dan down

Nicolas Roche's World Championship diary - World Road Race Championships, Ponferrada (257km)

Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland celebrates winning the Men's Road Race World Championship in Ponferrada, Spain
Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland celebrates winning the Men's Road Race World Championship in Ponferrada, Spain

Nicolas Roche

As the Irish team hotel was only about three minutes away from the start of the world road race championships this morning, the three-man squad of myself, Dan Martin and Philip Deignan cycled into town about an hour before the start.

After signing on, we relaxed and chatted for a while in our team camper van, one used by Sean Kelly's An Post Chain Reaction team during the season, before getting changed and lining up for the race.

Rain had been forecast for the duration of today's six-and-a-half-hour epic, but it had lashed all night and all day yesterday and with blue skies greeting us this morning, we hoped the prediction had been out by a day and it was all over.

As soon as we walked out of the camper, though, it started spitting down again. Having started in a jersey and short-sleeved gilet, I went back to the team car for a rain cape early on as the race for the rainbow jersey settled into its familiar pattern.

The world championships is always a gruelling war of attrition, with the pace slowly increasing lap after lap until more and more riders go out the back door and after a whopping 254.8km, or 158 miles, there are only a select few in with a chance of survival, never mind a medal.

Jump

The first three hours today weren't too bad. Four riders managed to jump up the road and with most of the big nations looking at each other to do the riding behind them, built up a 15-minute lead.

I'd expected one of the better-known teams, like the Italians, Spanish or Aussies, to chase them but it was the Polish squad that came to the front for a long period and began to close the gap down slowly but surely.

While it wasn't too cold, the road conditions were treacherous in the wet and it wasn't only us riders who were having problems on the course.

After four or five laps we passed one of the support cars on the side of the road. It was wedged up against a tree and I learned later that the four occupants were brought to hospital. I couldn't tell whether it was a team vehicle or not because the car was pretty destroyed.

With only three Irish riders qualifying for the worlds, compared to the nine-man squads of the bigger nations, myself, Dan and Philip knew we had to be clever and try to follow the bigger moves today rather than try to control the race ourselves.

When the gap came down to half a minute with just over four laps and 65km to go, though, the peloton began to fragment on the long drag towards the finish and a group of 19 riders went clear.

With three Spaniards, two Italians, two Germans and a couple of Belgians in the group I thought it would be a good idea to go with them but I was surprised when nobody really wanted to collaborate. When we opened the gap everyone basically stopped riding and waited for the bunch to come back and I still don't understand why.

Four or five of that group jumped off the front again when we were caught 5km later and the Aussies took up the chase at the front of the peloton. With some help from the Italians and Spanish later on, they began to wind the pace up with every kilometre.

As the race got quicker it became even more important to be near the front on the descent off the first climb, where we crossed a dam before climbing up the shorter but steeper second hill on the circuit.

With the peloton beginning to split on the descent as some guys took more chances than others in the wet, there was a lot of fighting for position beforehand with a lot of pushing going on.

With three and a half laps to go, I was riding alongside Dan, who was trying to get up the outside of the bunch and into a better position.

Two guys in front of him touched wheels and crashed, however, with one going straight into the barrier and the other one bringing Dan down beside me. With about 40km to go and the race in full flight, there was no way Dan was going to be able to regain contact after a bike change and we were down to two men.

The last three laps up the last climb were very hard and it was a real battle to hang on to the front group.

Philip got dropped somewhere in the last lap and a half but at that point I was desperately trying to stay as close to the front as possible and had no idea what was going on behind me.

As Polish rider Michal Kwiatkowski attacked over the top of the last hill, with 5km to go, there were only about 25 riders left in the peloton and just two or three of them were behind me. As seven more riders attacked off the front of the group, I grimaced and bobbed and just about hung on towards the back.

I tried to move up in the last four km to get the best result possible from the sprint for eighth place but when we turned right at the 500m to go mark, I had absolutely nothing left in my legs and had to make do with 26th, not the best ever result of my career but a respectable enough one in a very tough race.

I have to say thanks to Cycling Ireland for a great set-up again this week.

Professional

They've put in a lot of work over the last few years and are a very professional set-up now and it's great to go to the worlds and be able to concentrate on the race without getting frustrated about something not being right off the bike.

It's making a big difference and you can see the U-23s and the junior riders benefiting and coming through now.

I was so wrecked after my six and a half hours in the saddle that half an hour later I had to grab the handrail to pull myself up the steps of the team hotel before collapsing onto my bed.

Apart from a criterium in Japan next month, today was the last race of my season, so tonight I'm heading to Madrid to stay with my girlfriend for three days before coming home to ride the Nicolas Roche Classic charity ride for Barnardos at Fairyhouse Racecourse on Saturday.

There are three different distances, including a family spin available so hopefully I'll see some of you there.

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