Tuesday 16 January 2018

Nicholas Roche: 'It was flat out. We didn't even have time to pee'

Laurens Schumacher takes a tumble onstage three on the Junior Tour of Ireland in Ennis. The stage was won by Eddie Dunbar
Laurens Schumacher takes a tumble onstage three on the Junior Tour of Ireland in Ennis. The stage was won by Eddie Dunbar

Nicolas Roche

After half an hour's transfer to our latest hotel, last night the team celebrated my 29th birthday by decorating the dinner table with balloons and streamers.

Thursday July 4

Stage 6: Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier, (176.5km)

Unfortunately, I had no birthday cake as the generator in the team's mobile kitchen blew up a couple of days ago and the team chefs had to use the hotel kitchen instead. But they made me a nice mixed apple, blueberry and muesli dessert instead, which was probably much better for me anyway.

As we ate dessert, the lads sang 'happy birthday' to me while an anti-doping officer stood looking on. At least he allowed Daniele Bennati to finish his, before he took him off for his random test.

Today's stage was absolutely hectic. We knew this area of France is renowned for its Mistral winds. For my Saxo-Tinkoff team, the plan is always to keep our team leader Alberto Contador out of trouble, so today was nothing different.

We made sure to stay near the front of the peloton all day in case any of the big teams tried to use the crosswinds to split the race.

In the first week of the Tour, the peloton is very strong. On a windy day like today, a lot of riders don't want to chance spending the whole day out in the wind only to be reeled in by the sprinters' teams near the end. This morning just one brave soul, Luis Mate of Cofidis, went clear at the start and nobody else followed.

The bunch took it easy for about 20km but even though Mate had built up a lead of just over four minutes by the 40km mark, with nobody up there to help him he knew he was fighting a losing battle and sat up, opting for the shelter of the bunch just 10km later.

It was really nervous for the rest of the day. No team really rode tempo at the front. Instead all the strong teams swapped over, although this was more an effort to keep their various leaders out of trouble than anything else.

Usually, everyone slows down as we approach the feed zone and we take a few minutes to grab our musettes filled with fresh bottles and food but today we flew through it, so nobody was able to grab their feed bag from the team soigneur at the side of the road. I had anticipated this happening, though, and had already filled my pockets with enough food for the whole stage.

After the feed zone, there was an attempt by someone to calm things down to allow riders to get food on board but it didn't really happen. There was no pause button pressed and the race kept going flat out. We didn't even have time to pee today.

As the rest of us rode on the front, Sergio Paulinho had the difficult task of going back to the team car for bottles for the team today. He must have been knackered because it was hard enough trying to stay at the front without having to drop back to the car, cram your jersey with heavy bottles and then try to fight your way through the crosswind to get back up to us at the front.

Sheltered

Riding into the three-quarter headwind was like riding into a wall. When you were on the front it was extremely difficult but when you were sheltered, sitting behind a wheel, you could breathe again, which meant that the guys behind you were fresher and would swarm to the front when your team ran out of steam, only for the same thing to happen to them a few kilometres later and another team would come to the front.

Around 34km out from the finish, we got caught out on a big roundabout where Mark Cavendish crashed. I, Matteo Tosatto, Daniele and Alberto were riding on the left-hand side of the peloton as we approached the roundabout, but the race exited off the third exit to the right, which meant we went the long way around and ended up nearly at the back of the bunch by the time we came out of it.

We had to fight really hard to get back to the front, just in time to see team-mate Michael Rogers put the pressure on again at the head of the peloton.

In the final 3km or so, we just tried to stay in a safe position near the front but out of the way of the sprinters.

Even though there was a five-second split to the stage winner Andre Greipel and the first 16 riders over the line, I crossed in 32nd place knowing we were surrounded by the other overall contenders so it didn't really matter.

Alberto didn't lose any time to the guys who will be challenging him for yellow in Paris three Sundays from now. As usual Alberto thanked us for our hard work as soon as he got on to the team bus after the stage.

Tomorrow we're heading towards our first taste of the Pyrenees and have two massive mountains looming on Saturday, so we won't be long seeing how the legs are.

Although I'm ninth overall at the moment, I'm probably going to pay for this week's efforts in the wind but most of the peloton are in the same boat. Saving energy in the Tour de France is nigh on impossible.

Irish Independent

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