Nicholas Roche: 'I stopped by the team car to apologise to my directeur sportif'
This morning before the stage start, my Saxo Tinkoff team had a visit to the podium as we had won the team prize on Sunday. As overall team classification leaders we now wear yellow numbers and helmets and today we were each given a set of sports headphones from the sponsor Digital.
Nicolas Roche - Tour Diary
Tuesday, July 16 – Stage 16: Vaison la Romaine to Gap, 168km
The plan this morning was for me to try and get up the road in a group, so I was up the front from kilometre one.
Almost immediately I got into a group of eight or nine riders, and another couple of guys came across soon after. Even though we were riding flat out, the gap hovered between just 10 and 40 seconds.
On the third-category climb of the Cote de Montagne de Bluye after about 12km, two more groups came across – they included my cousin Dan Martin, my team-mates Jesus Hernandez and Daniele Bennati, swelling the breakaway to around 40 riders.
Once we got over that climb, we hit some undulating valley road and the attacks began again. I kept jumping into every move and eventually 10 or 12 of us got clear. Soon, another group containing world champion Philippe Gilbert flew across the gap and we began to get away from the peloton.
We had no more news of what was happening behind until we began the second-category climb of the Col de Macuegne, about 40km in, where we were told we had almost four minutes.
While I was the only one from my team in the move, Radioshack had three, while Europcar, Ag2r, BMC and Vaconsoleil all had two men in the break. With all of us too far down the overall standings to benefit enough to move anywhere near the top of the leaderboard, all everyone was thinking of was the stage win today.
Although there were 26 riders out front, the one I was watching was Rui Costa, who recently won the Tour of Switzerland. Costa is a decent climber and a very good time triallist, and I knew that if he got over the top of the final climb on his own, with 12km to go, he would be very hard to catch on the descent.
There wasn't really much discussion in the escape group and with everybody cooperating smoothly the gap went out to over seven minutes by the time we went through the feed zone halfway through the stage.
Most guys just kept one bottle on the bike today to save weight. Riding in a breakaway group, it's much easier to get food and drinks from your team car as they are right behind the group and there is not as much hassle trying to ride back through a pile of cars and the whole peloton to get back to the front.
With 33km to go, our lead had grown to nearly 11 minutes as Jean-Marc Marino and Blel Kadri attacked on a little incline. Still waiting for Costa to move, I bided my time and let the others react.
As we approached the bottom of the final climb, the second-category Col de Manse, with about 17km to go, Aussie Adam Hanson rode across the gap and past the two leaders. Costa immediately moved to the front of the group and, knowing he was the man to beat, I leapt on his back wheel.
Cofidis rider Jerome Coppel then jumped away on the climb, with Costa in pursuit. I went flat out to get to Costa's wheel but when he put the hammer down on a steep bend, I simply didn't have the legs to stay with him and completely blew up.
Soon Costa had dropped Coppel and was riding away to a stage win. I was in the next group on the road alongside Arnold Jeannesson of FDJ, my old Ag2r team-mate Christophe Riblon and Coppel but, with my legs completely gone, was back in next group with Gilbert and Co just 600m later.
Gilbert's group started attacking each other and with no power left to react, I began the final descent about 15 seconds behind them and stayed there until the finish, crossing in 16th, about a minute behind stage winner Costa.
As soon as I crossed the line I was swamped by TV crews and reporters. I had no room to breathe at all. Sticking microphones under my chin and TV cameras in my face, they weren't interested in my performance – instead they wanted to know about my team leader Alberto Contador, who had just attacked yellow jersey Chris Froome about 5km behind us.
But I had no idea what was going on behind me. As they questioned me about stuff that was happening out the road I told them I didn't even have a radio signal. Still they asked me about attacks by Alberto and Roman Kreuziger. "Lads, I've been sitting on my bike for the last four hours, not in front of the TV. How do I know what's going on behind me?"
I'm disappointed with my ride today, not to have been more competitive and been able to fight for the stage win at the end. I knew that to win I had to follow Costa but he was really strong. I went overboard in my efforts to stay with him and he put me well outside of my comfort zone. I tried to give it everything to stay with him but it was agony and soon I was drifting back and having a hard time recovering. Scrap that. I still haven't recovered.
I stopped by the team car for a second to apologise to my directeur sportif before riding the 3km to our hotel. "Sorry, Fabrizio, I was hoping I could have done better but I just didn't have the legs today. I'm disappointed."
"No worries Nico."
My room-mate Roman is the only one I've seen so far and he told me that he and Alberto attacked Froome a few times on the run in to the finish and managed to drop a couple of guys in the top 10 overall and put a little bit more time into them ahead of tomorrow's time trial.
He also told me Alberto crashed on the final descent, cutting his right knee. He was back on his bike quickly and didn't lose any time to Froome, so hopefully he'll be okay tomorrow.