Wednesday 22 November 2017

'It's the first time a rider chased a team car to get a new wheel'

Argos-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel grimaces as he crosses the finish line to win the 197km 10th stage of the Tour de France ahead of Andre Greipel and Mark Cavendish
Argos-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel grimaces as he crosses the finish line to win the 197km 10th stage of the Tour de France ahead of Andre Greipel and Mark Cavendish

Nicolas Roche

Today was one of those stages where the route profile lied to you a little bit. After a couple of serious mountain stages, today looked flat in the race handbook but, as it turned out, there was hardly a bit of flat at all, with loads of little drags, lumps and bumps on the road to St Malo.

Tuesday July 9

Stage 10: St Gildas de Bois to St Malo (197km)

My legs didn't feel great at all in the first few kilometres of the stage, which is always the way after a rest day. You'd think the rest would make you feel fresher the next morning but, for me anyway, it's almost always the opposite.

Thankfully, though, a five-man breakaway group went clear almost straightaway and as there was no real panic in the peloton behind them, I could ease myself back into action.

With the race due to travel along Brittany's Emerald Coast later in the stage, we knew it would be important to be well positioned in the final 30km as we expected teams to try and split the peloton in the strong winds coming in from the open seafront.

With the sprinters' teams keeping the breakaway group on a tight leash and the speed relatively comfortable in the peloton, I decided to stop for a pee midway through the stage, just after the feed zone.

Like most of the peloton, I don't normally bother stopping unless the race is going really slow and it's going to be easy to regain contact with the peloton.


On faster sections, riders pee from their bikes if they have to, pulling down the front of their shorts and leaning to one side as they freewheel back down the side of the peloton. The best place to do this is obviously on a slightly downhill section but sometimes a team-mate will push you from the side on the flat if needs be. Like everything in cycling, wind direction is very important, both for you and the guy pushing you. It could be where the saying 'p***ing in the wind' comes from.

Anyway, today I decided to stop. As I peed, the team cars went past as usual and by the time I had finished most of the cavalcade had gone by. Just as I was about to get going again, I heard a hissing sound coming from my front wheel. I had a puncture, and with my team car now well ahead of me on the road, I had to chase back up to them before the wheel went totally flat.

I radioed my team manager Philippe Mauduit to tell him and he replied that I was to get to the back of the bunch as quickly as possible. After a fairly hectic few minutes bombing up through the cars in a race against time with my front tyre, I was on the rim as I eventually pulled up alongside my Saxo Tinkoff team car and our mechanic jumped out and changed my wheel.

Once again, I found myself in the middle of the cavalcade and chasing back on, although this time, there was no real panic as the bunch were still within sight and seemed to be oblivious to my mishap.

As I passed the team car again, I grabbed a few bottles to bring up to my team-mates as Philippe and the guys in the car laughed. "That's the first time I saw a rider having to catch the team car to get a wheel."

With Mick Rogers, Jesus Hernandez and Roman Kreuziger climbing better than me on this Tour, and Benjamin Noval having abandoned, I'm sort of the middle man on the team, the guy who can climb a bit and ride well on the flat. Myself, Matteo Tosatto and Daniele Bennati were given the role of keeping Alberto Contador out of trouble in the exposed final section.

Going through a little town with about 30km to go, I was on the front of the peloton with the guys on my wheel when I rounded a corner to see the seafront on my right-hand side. I started to hammer it on the front as per instructions, only for Tosatto to give me a shout over the team radio to calm it down, that it wasn't the actual seafront we had been waiting for and that the dangerous section was another 5km or so down the road.

We went back inland for a bit and then hit the seafront again later on. Myself, Matteo and 'Benna' hit the front again and with Alberto sheltered on our wheels, we tried to take things in hand so we didn't get caught up in other teams' battles.

We rode hard for a few kilometres but in the end, the wind wasn't as strong as predicted and the road wasn't as open as expected, so it turned out to be a lot of stress for nothing as no team had the strength in depth to do anything. But it was better for Alberto to be up there and use us to stay safe than risk the chance of getting caught out if the bunch split.

With about 4km to go and Alberto safe at the front, my job was done for the day. Matteo and I eased up on a last little incline and rolled into the finish with a 40-strong group of riders a minute and 40 seconds behind stage winner Marcel Kittel. There was no point in killing myself by sprinting for 40th or 50th place. l know that my services will be called upon again in the next few days so it was better to save whatever little bit of energy I could for the days ahead.

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