Thursday 5 December 2019

'While it didn't work out for me I just had to take my chance'

Nicolas Roche's Tour de France diary

A cycling fan on a home trainer cheers as the pack of riders cycles on its way during the 187.5km 11th stage of the Tour de France between Besancon and Oyonnax. Photo: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
A cycling fan on a home trainer cheers as the pack of riders cycles on its way during the 187.5km 11th stage of the Tour de France between Besancon and Oyonnax. Photo: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Nicolas Roche

Wednesday July 16 – Stage 11: Besancon to Oyonnax (187.5km)

After a week of rain the sun finally came out on the Tour this morning and I began today's stage in 25 degrees. I began the stage in a brand new jersey, shorts and socks and was looking forward to riding in the sunshine as we left Besancon.

With a mainly flat opening half of the stage before four little climbs in the last 50km, the team plan for today was that myself and Michael Rogers would try and get into the early breakaway if the group was big enough.

I did manage to get into five or six groups in the opening kilometres but there was a pretty strong tailwind and some of the sprinters' teams weren't too keen to let a big group go clear, so we were always swamped by the peloton within a few minutes.

After about 20km of non-stop attacking, we turned on to a long open road and from the front of the peloton we could see a level crossing coming down about 600 metres ahead of us.

In anticipation of having to stop, the whole peloton slowed to a crawl but with the train gone through just as we came to the level crossing, the barriers lifted and the attacks started again.

About 10km later, three riders eventually got clear and there was a long pause in the peloton as riders took the opportunity to stop for a pee, go back to the team cars for bottles or just take a breather.

The Orica GreenEDGE and Cannondale teams began to chase and kept the gap at around three minutes before the Garmin-Sharp team hit the front, setting a blistering pace about 10km before the first of the day's four climbs, the third category Cote de Rogna.

The American squad brought the breakaway's advantage down from three minutes to just a minute and a half, but they suddenly began to fade as we started to climb with 50km to go.

Immediately, Jan Bakelants of Omega Pharma Quickstep attacked and was soon followed by Tom-Jelte Slagter of Garmin-Sharp.

As I was riding on the left hand side of the peloton, near the front, I just thought I'd give it a go and jumped up the road after them.

I rode across to Bakelants and Slagter and we soon caught Frenchman Anthony Delaplace, who had been dropped by his breakaway companions, as the Astana team of race leader Vincenzo Nibali set a steady tempo behind us.


As all three of us out front have already lost a lot of time in this Tour, I knew Nibali wouldn't be too concerned about us and was hoping Astana would stay on the front and our gap might slip out to around a minute and give us a decent chance of staying clear to the finish.

However, 45 seconds was as much as we got before the Orica GreenEDGE team took up the chase for Simon Gerrans, a fast finisher who can get over the smaller climbs.

I kept riding flat-out on the climb and soon there was only myself and Bakelants up front, with lone breakaway survivor Martin Elmiger dangling ahead of us and two chasers: Jesus Herrada of Movistar and Cyril Gauthier of Europcar in between us and the peloton.

We caught Elmiger on the next climb, while Herrada and Gauthier came across to make it five up front and increase our chances of survival with around 30km to go.

However, by the time we hit the last categorised climb, the Cote d'Echallon, with about 20km left, we still weren't opening the gap and, with the Cannondale team now leading the chase for green jersey Peter Sagan, we had only a 25-second advantage and I had no choice but to attack again.

I dropped the rest of the group on the climb but Gauthier and Herrada clawed their way back up to me a few minutes later. I kicked again and went over the top on my own with about a 30-second lead.

I expected the roads to be a bit smaller, a technical descent straight away, where I could maybe get out of sight and therefore out of mind, but before I even hit the descent there was about a kilometre and a half of really flat road and I lost a lot of time there.

On the descent itself, I looked around with around 15km to go to see word time trial champion Tony Martin of Omega Pharma Quickstep steaming up to me, having disintegrated the peloton on the way down.

He had two team-mates with him in a little group that also contained Nibali, third-placed Alejandro Valverde and a handful of others.

I sprinted as hard as I could to hang on to them as they flew past me but I had dug in too much on the previous climb and one last kicker with about 12km to go killed me off.

As groups passed me on the descent I just moved out of the way. To rub salt into the wounds, I found that my front wheel was going soft, but it got me to the finish.

My efforts for the day done, I lost eight minutes in the final kilometres and finished in a little 10-man group.

Upon crossing the line I was told I had won the Tour's daily combativity award for the most aggressive rider and was ushered into the little area reserved for those riders due to stand on the podium after the stage.

After a quick clean-up and change into new kit, I walked out on to the rostrum to receive my flowers and my trophy, which was a nice experience.


While things didn't work out for me as regards the stage win today, I think I had to take my chance.

I was hoping that with all the hills towards the end of the stage, the sprinters wouldn't have enough team-mates left to chase us down but as it turned out, a couple of teams put a man each on the front and that was enough to bring us back.

After I was reeled in, my room-mate Michael Rogers went clear in the next move and, while that didn't work out, our sprinter Daniele Bennati took fourth on the stage behind Tony Gallopin, who held off a charging peloton to claim victory by less than a bike length.

Although we have lost our team leader Alberto Contador, Tinkoff-Saxo are still here. The Tour is not over for us. We want to go for stages now and want to play a role in the race.


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