Tuesday 24 April 2018

Nicolas Roche: ‘About 20 of us missed the start’

Stage 2 Tuesday, March 22, Santa Coloma de Farners - Banyoles 169.3KM

The Lampre team set the pace in the peloton during yesterday's second stage of the Tour of Catalonia race in Banyoles. Photo: Reuters
The Lampre team set the pace in the peloton during yesterday's second stage of the Tour of Catalonia race in Banyoles. Photo: Reuters

Nicolas Roche

Today's stage got off to a bad start for me. Actually, it very nearly didn't get off to any kind of start.

It had begun to rain just before we were due to get under way in Santa Coloma de Farners, so I opted to stay on my Ag2r La Mondiale team bus until the last minute.

Zipping up my rain cape, I exited the bus as normal, grabbed my bike and began to leisurely pedal through the slowly-moving race cavalcade that always lines up behind the bunch.

There was no real hurry as we weren't due to start for another five minutes at least. Guys were getting rain capes from their team cars and four of the Spanish Movistar team were chatting at the side of the pavement, checking their tyre pressure and looking over their bikes, much the same as every other day.

I'd read in the race manual that we would have five minutes of neutralised riding before the actual racing began, but the cars were now moving a bit faster than usual. There were a couple of riders in the cavalcade in front of me and lots more behind me, so I didn't put any pass on it until I heard over the radio. "Good luck for the day. Kilometre zero. Racing is on." The stage must have started early.

I spent the next four kilometres jumping from car boot to car boot, through the 50 or so cars, all the way up to the first car and eventually into the tail end of the peloton. I was the first one to get back on. I found out later that about 20 guys missed the start, including team leaders Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack), David Moncoutie (Cofidis) and Denis Menchov (Rabobank).

The early kilometres of each stage are usually the most frantic as riders attack each other in an effort to get away. Luckily enough, today the break went after just three kilometres and the peloton settled into a good tempo, which helped those stranded behind to regain contact.

As I rode sheepishly into the peloton after four kilometres of racing, I could hear my directeur sportif laughing over the radio. "Four Movistar riders missed the start and are a long way back in the cars." He obviously hadn't noticed that I missed it too. I wasn't the only Ag2r rider either. My team-mates Blel Kadri and Christophe Riblon only got on a few kilometres later, while it took the Movistar guys about 15km to catch up.

When the lead group got five minutes lead, the Lampre team of Alessandro Petacchi started riding tempo. Today was always going to come down to a bunch sprint and the Italian's team were playing their card early.

As things settled into a steady rhythm, I had a good chat with Philip Deignan. If there's one guy in the peloton who understands how long it takes to come back from injury, it's Philip, so we compared notes on how hard it was to get back to top form when you take time off.

But then we moved on to more interesting stuff. Cars and motorbikes. Philip told me he'd met Irish superbike rider Eugene Laverty a few weeks ago on a trip to a physio up the north. I'd met Eugene at a radio station back in December and myself and Philip spent a good few kilometres talking about his chances in the world superbike series this year.

As we entered the 9km finishing circuit, the breakaway had been reeled in to a manageable distance and no longer posed a threat to the sprinters' teams. After they were caught, there were a few attacks on the circuit, which we had to cover four times, but Lampre and Movistar forced the pace at the front and held the bunch together until the final gallop.

Sebastien Minard did a massive load of work for me again today. In the sprint Blel wanted to lead me out, but I told him that I had Seb to do that and that he should either do his own sprint or conserve energy for Wednesday.

Although Blel is co-leader this week, old habits die hard. Seb was with me until the second last corner which was about a kilometre and a half from the finish.

Boxed In

There was a slight drag on the narrow run to the line. I got boxed in on the right-hand side, but the sprint started on the left and as Petacchi galloped off to take his stage win, I couldn't get out.

I was angry with myself. I feel like the rhythm is coming back, but I just don't seem to have the sprinter's reflex yet. If I go right, the sprint goes left. If I go left, the sprint goes right. I crossed the line in 20th place and moved up to 12th overall.

Today we rode at about 75pc all day. These exertions are hard enough to give you sore legs, but not hard enough to find out if everybody else is feeling better or worse than you are.

Wednesday is going to be a completely different story. The final climb to the ski station in Andorra will be decisive. I think Dan (Martin) and Philip will both do a good ride on the mountain. Dan seems to be in great condition.

From what I've seen so far, I think he can be up there on the GC. For me it's more about getting my morale back, fighting with the leaders for as long as I can. It's hard enough to follow Contador, Evans, Basso and Scarponi when you're 100pc, so I can imagine what it'll be like in this next stage.

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