Saturday 22 September 2018

Nicolas Roche's Giro d'Italia diary: 'A broken bed and loud karaoke added to our bad luck with hotels'

Saturday May 12, Stage 8: Praia a Mare to Montevergine di Mercogliano (209kms)

Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates celebrates the stage victory to extend his overall lead in general classification. (Daniel Dal Zennaro/ANSA via AP)
Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates celebrates the stage victory to extend his overall lead in general classification. (Daniel Dal Zennaro/ANSA via AP)

Nicolas Roche

During the early part of today's stage I found myself riding alongside Italian rider Eros Capecchi of the Quickstep team.

Eros lives near me in Monaco and we sometimes train together.

He turned pro in the same year as me, and today we got talking about how much the sport has changed since 2005.

Years ago there was one big leader or 'patron' of the peloton who seemed to call the shots within the race.

Nobody ever attacked in the feed zone of a race - as it was a given that everyone had to grab their musettes to eat to get through the stage. We always raced up the climbs, but at least you'd get some recovery on the way down.

In fact, in my early years, I was always told to go and get bottles on the last kilometre of a climb so that I could hand them out to my team-mates on the way down the other side.

Today it's impossible to do that because the stress of racing is always there. If you dare to take a sip of a drink on a descent nowadays you get passed by 10 guys.

This week Jurgen Roelandts spent two days just going back to our team car for bottles for us here.

He was given no other team duties to fulfil on those days because it's turned into such a hard job nowadays, especially on an undulating stage. The rules and etiquette of the peloton also seem to have disappeared in that time.

Back then, when the early break got established in a race everyone took it easy for a while, maybe stopping for a pee or going back for bottles before the peloton settled into a rhythm for the day.

Nowadays, it doesn't matter if you're peeing, crashing or what's going on, teams will attack on a descent, in the feed zone or anywhere else.

Pink

Today the early break was three minutes up the road as the Mitchelton-Scott team of race leader Simon Yates took up the defence of his pink jersey at the front of the peloton.

Safe in the knowledge that there was nobody in the breakaway within eight and a half minutes of Yates' lead, the Aussie squad didn't kill themselves on the front and things were pretty calm.

Suddenly after 25km, Adam Hansen and Tim Wellens of Lotto Fix-All suddenly jumped up the road out of the blue sparking a 30km chase led by Katusha.

Things got a bit more hectic after about 150km as we approached the first of three ramps up towards the finish 60km away and other teams joined in.

When it started to rain 20km from the finish it was pretty sketchy as the roads were really shiny and slippery in places and there were little flash floods in some of the small towns we went through approaching the final ascent.

On the 17km rise to the summit finish, I put Rohan Dennis into position near the front of the favourites' group and tried to stay with him as long as I could on the incline as the rain bounced off the road.

With 6km to go, I was really struggling at the back of the whittled down group as we rounded a rain-soaked hairpin.

Here, halfway down the group, Chris Froome's front wheel slid out from under him and he fell, taking young Aussie Ben O'Connor of Dimension-Data with him.

The sudden crash saw myself and everyone else behind him forced to slam on to avoid running into the back of them.

Already hanging on by a thread, the effort to chase back onto the group meant I didn't have the legs to stay there for much longer and within a kilometre I was dropped.

Already seven minutes down in the overall standings, I knew that it didn't make much difference whether I lost another minute or five minutes today so I just rode at my own pace to the top, crossing the line in a little group two minutes after Movistar's Richard Carapaz became the first Ecuadorian to win a Giro stage.

Rohan did well again today to finish with the favourites' group and hold onto his sixth place overall.

As I crossed the line, I was greeted by two chaperones, one of whom took me to an anti-doping test, while the other placed a clamp on my bike and took it for an X-ray to check if it had a motor.

Sometimes anti-doping can take ages, especially if you're not able to pee after the finish, but today it didn't take long at all and the fact that the commissaires were still checking my bike after I was done meant that while all of the other guys had to don a rain cape and ride back down the climb in the rain to the team buses at the bottom, I got a lift back down in the nice warm team car.

Sunday May 13, Stage, 9: Pesco Sannita to Gran Sasso (225kms)

After another long transfer to our hotel, my room-mate Rohan Dennis got a text from fellow Aussie Adam Hansen last night at the dinner table.

The Lotto Fix-All rider was worried that we might be pissed off about his attack with team-mate Tim Wellens while the bunch was taking it easy early in yesterday's stage.

Apparently the duo had jumped up the road as a joke, hiding behind a wall or something as soon as they got out of sight.

Their attack was the match that lit the fire in the peloton again but in fairness, I was down the back of the bunch at the time and hadn't noticed anything apart from the pace going up suddenly as Katusha took up the wild-goose chase at the front, so all we could do was laugh about it last night.

Our luck with hotels hasn't been great on this Giro and a broken bed combined with a loud karaoke underneath us meant last night wasn't much better.

Despite donning ear plugs to get some sleep, this morning we were woken at 6.30am by the sound of a huge generator outside as the chefs and mechanics got to work.

I had a chat with our directeur sportif Max Sciandri last night about maybe trying to go in the breakaway today but after weighing up my present condition and the profile of today's 225km mountain stage into a headwind, we both decided against it, which is just as well as today wasn't a great day for me.

I struggled from the start this morning but thankfully once a group of 14 riders went clear from the gun, there seemed to be a lot of guys in the same boat and things were relatively calm, at least until we hit the final two climbs with 50km to go.

Mitchelton-Scott controlled the pace pretty well again today but I found myself struggling about halfway up the first category Campo Imperatore after 185km and drifted out the back of the reduced peloton, leaving just Alessandro De Marchi with Rohan for the final 30km.

I tried to take a breather on the way up before being caught by a group of five or six just before the summit.

Two more groups, one including Irish champion Ryan Mullen, caught us before the ascent to the first-category climb to the ski station of Gran Sasso and we had swelled to around 50 riders approaching the summit finish.

Sometimes in such a big 'grupetto', there are guys who want to show off and ride too hard for everybody else but today I was pleasantly surprised at how sociable the pace was to the top, even if we did finish half an hour behind race leader and stage winner Yates.

Irish Independent

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