Wednesday 17 January 2018

'The Aussie went head first into the ditch and through a barbed wire fence'

Ireland's Nicolas Roche. Photo: Getty Images
Ireland's Nicolas Roche. Photo: Getty Images

Nicolas Roche

Thursday March 10, Stage 4: Julienas to Romans-sur-Isere (195.5kms)

After the rain, hail and snow of the first few days of Paris-Nice, it was nice to wake up to a clear sky this morning in Julienas.

It was still barely above freezing as we left the start line but it was nice not to have a wear a rain jacket for a change.

A four-man break, including Dimension Data's Irish rider Matt Brammeier, went clear after just 5km but as soon as they got four minutes lead, the Orica-GreenEdge team of race leader Michael Matthews combined with the sprint trains of Etixx-Quickstep and Katusha at the front and began to bring the gap down.

With a lot of changes in direction on today's stage, our young American Ian Boswell spent a lot of time in the wind in the first half of the race to keep the rest of us sheltered, out of trouble and close to the front.

With the breakaway group just under a minute ahead as we approached the main climb of the day, the second category Cote de-Saint-Uze, with around 40km to go, I moved towards the front and battled with the other teams in an effort to get the guys the best position into the corner leading onto the climb.

As we approached the bottom I swung off to let Luke Rowe take Ian Stannard, Ben Swift and Geraint Thomas onto the slope.

The road was surfaced with loose chippings though and our plans went a bit astray when one of these chippings somehow managed to find its way in between 'G's brake blocks and his front wheel, which resulted in our team leader hitting the deck in the middle of the peloton.

Luckily, we were all around him when he fell so, apart from Swifty and Sergio Henao, who were told to stay with the front of the group, we waited for 'G' to remount before winding our way up the climb with him sheltered behind us.

Boz bobbed and weaved his way up the ascent, leading us through a group containing German sprinter Marcel Kittel and his team-mates before passing Katusha's fast man Alexander Kristoff who had punctured and was getting a wheel from a team-mate at the side of the road.

At the top there was a strong crosswind blowing from left to right so Boz moved over and I closed the gap to the back of the peloton just as we began the descent.

On the way down we passed Dimension Data's Nathan Haas, who was sitting in a field just after a tight left-hand bend.

The Aussie had attacked on the climb, overshot the corner on the way down and gone head first into the ditch, through a barbed wire fence and landed on the grass.

At the bottom of the descent Swifty was waiting for us towards the back of the bunch and we all moved up towards the front immediately.

We had discussed the next few kilometres at the team meeting this morning and knew that the wide open roads that followed were conducive to an attack from a strong team and the peloton could split if the wind was strong enough.

With their nearest rival Kittel dropped and Kristoff having regained contact, this was where Katusha really put the hammer down in order to give their man a better chance in the sprint finish.

Within seconds, the peloton was split into five groups and we were caught in the second one.

My Sky team-mates and I were stuck behind some of the Ag2r team for a while before 'G' found a gap and bounced across to the front group with the rest of us in tow.

Boz and I worked together for the next few kilometres to keep 'G' and Swifty safe at the front before things got a bit hectic in the last 2km or so.

With the sprinters swarming at the front and 'G' happy enough with his position, I sat behind him until the final kilometre before drifting back and letting the sprinters do their thing.

Swifty lived up to his name by finishing sixth behind French stage winner Nacer Bouhanni while 'G' took 11th place to remain fifth overall and just 19 seconds off the race lead. With three days to go and the mountains looming, he's very much in contention.


Eurosport 2, 3.30

Irish Independent

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