Nicolas Roche: 'You can do everything right but you still need luck in the last few metres'
Tour de France Diary
Wednesday July 10, stage 5: Saint Dié-de-Vósges to Colmar (196km)
A later start today meant that we had a more relaxed breakfast than usual this morning and had an hour to get ready for the transfer to the stage start.
The stage route profile meant it was likely to end in a bunch sprint so getting our Australian fast-man Michael Matthews to the last few hundred metres as fresh as possible – and in the best position possible – was my Sunweb team’s main priority this morning, with everyone given a distinctive role for each part of the stage.
After the pre-stage briefing in the bus, I grabbed a coffee and got ready to race.
I don’t know where the time went but pretty soon I realised I was the only one left on the bus and just about managed to get to the start line on time.
With four categorised climbs on today’s route we expected Belgian Tim Wellens of Lotto-Soudal to try to get up the road and add to his King of the Mountains tally early on.
That in itself wasn’t a problem as we don’t have anybody near the top of that classification but we knew that if a large group went with him it would be difficult to bring them back and our sprint chances would be out the window.
All of the other sprint teams were on the same page, though, and it took around about 25km before a group got clear that everybody seemed happy with the composition of.
When things settled down, I realised that my team radio had been very quiet and I dropped back to the team car to find that it had been on the wrong channel all along.
With my radio fixed, I then headed back to the front of the peloton with bottles for my team-mates.
By then Cees Bol had started riding on the front for us and most of the other teams were happy to leave him there, although the other sprint teams eventually gave him a hand.
The gap never went much further than three or four minutes and came down to around a minute at the feed zone midway through the stage, so we backed off a bit because we didn’t want to catch the break too early and spark more attacks.
Up ahead, Wellens picked up maximum points from the break on the first two climbs after 44km and 109km respectively to consolidate his lead in the polka-dot jersey. By then my Sunweb team had taken over on the front, with Chad Haga setting a good tempo that saw Caleb Ewan become the first sprinter to lose contact on the second climb.
Over the next two climbs, Michael and I sat behind Lenny (Lennard Kamna) and Wilco Kelderman as they set a pace that got rid of two more sprint rivals – Elia Viviani and Alexander Kristoff – and they caught the break with about 20km remaining.
Lenny is only 22 but he did a great ride today, bringing us all the way into the last 8km.
When the Portuguese rider Rui Costa attacked with 7km to go I was hoping Bora-Hansgrohe would take up the slack and bring him back, but the gap opened to 12 seconds and hovered there for the next four kilometres.
I thought there was a chance we’d catch him once the sprint started, but I didn’t want to take the risk of seeing him stay away and win the stage for Michael to be second again.
I told Michael that he’d have to position himself in the sprint and I hit the front to try and close the gap.
With help from one of the Bora guys we brought everything together with approximately 2km to go.
As the sprint wound up, Michael was perfectly positioned on the green-jerseyed Peter Sagan’s wheel going into a chicane in the last 500 metres but got crowded out and came out of it having lost a few places.
As three-time World Champion Sagan got a free run to the line, Michael had to pick his way through the gaps but finished fast to take seventh on the stage a couple of metres back.
He was pretty disappointed on the bus afterwards.
He thanked us for all the work we did but felt he had let the team down, which was nonsense.
Michael is one of those riders who always gives his all and never leaves anything on the road and I think he will get a stage win here yet.
As stage winner Sagan said when he was asked about how close he had come to victory on previous stages at the Tour: “Sometimes you can do everything right all day but you still need a bit of luck in the last few hundred metres.”