Saturday 21 September 2019

Nicolas Roche's Giro D'Italia diary: 'Sam was in tears as I congratulated him. It was pretty emotional'

Friday, May 11, Stage 7: Pizzo to Praia a Mare (159km)

Sam Bennett celebrates
Sam Bennett celebrates

Nicolas Roche

After yesterday's stage, us riders had another race, this time to the ferry from Sicily to mainland Italy.

After a scramble to get showered and into the team cars for the drive to the port, we arrived there to find there was no special boat for the Giro contingent, so we sat cramped in the car inching forward in the line of regular passengers for an hour and a half before eventually getting on board for the half-hour journey across.

Arriving at the hotel after 10pm meant a very late dinner and no massage so, after a long hard day, I ordered a glass of wine to wind down a bit. It could have been worse - as we began to eat, at around 10.15, some teams were still in the queue back at the port, while our mechanics had to grab a pizza as they worked outside.

With a bunch sprint expected today, our sprinters Jempy (Drucker) and Jurgen (Roelandts) were asked if they wanted to go for it this morning but both of them have worked so hard defending the jersey over the last few days that they were unsure of themselves and opted to try and recover a bit on the road today.

The first break went straight from the gun and everybody seemed happy for a while, until Quickstep suddenly lit up at the front and closed the gap as quickly as they could.

Although former world time-trial champion Tony Martin was in the break, I was a bit surprised at his former team chasing him, so I turned to their sprinter Elia Viviani shortly afterwards.

"What's the deal with Tony Martin?"

"Ah, it's just for the sake of having an easier day," he replied. "He's so strong, we didn't want to let him go and then have to chase all day at 50kph to bring him back."

Almost five hours later and with the next breakaway caught, Martin attacked again with 15km to go and, as I was in a decent position, I joined him and three others.

With the speed up to around 75kph by that point though, our game was up within 2km.

There was almost carnage as we went through two unlit tunnels with 6km to go.

The general rule in a tunnel is nobody brakes, because if somebody does, then everyone hits the deck. The first one was about 300 metres long and even though I took my sunglasses off, it was so dark in the middle that I couldn't even see my handlebars - and we were all across the road, doing 70kph.

As the final sprint to the line unfolded, I glanced at the big screen with 200 metres to go to see Sam Bennett punch the air as the speaker called his name, announcing his stage victory ahead of Viviani.

Yesterday I said to keep an eye out for him and it's great to see him finally get his first Grand Tour win.

I know how much he's been frustrated, getting seconds and thirds in really big races and I'm sure it's a massive release to finally get that big Grand Tour win off his back.

We had a chat about it in Israel and I told him he had a real chance this year.

He's been top three a few times at the Giro but today he timed it perfectly, staying on the wheel of Viviani, rather than leading him out like the first road stage, and was able to jump him.

After I crossed the line, I met Sam coming the other way, on his way to the podium.

He was in tears as I stopped to congratulate him and it was pretty emotional to be honest.

He deserves it so much.

I was thrilled for him.

There's something special about a Grand Tour win.

A bit like Sam, in my second Grand Tour, the 2008 Vuelta, I lost a stage win in a photo finish and got second again at the Tour de France in 2009, but it took me until 2013 to finally get a victory.

Last year he came pretty close to a Giro stage but it didn't quite work out for him so it's great to see him finally nail it this year.

Sam is a really well-liked lad in the bunch.

When he moved to Monaco a couple of years ago, he was too shy to ask myself or Philip Deignan if he could train with us but now he's well established in his own right and today he became the first Irishman since my dad, 31 years ago, to win a Giro stage.

Hopefully we will get a chance to celebrate together at home after this Giro.

When I got into the bus, our own sprinter Jempy summed it up perfectly when he said, 'He's a good lad, he deserves it'."

Giro d'Italia,

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