Wednesday 21 March 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'An Italian who had nowhere to go hit me'

Tuesday, March 19 Stage 2: Girona-Banyole 160.7km

With a 12.50 start, the official wake up time for the team was 9.0 this morning but as usual I got up a few minutes earlier.

As I was shuffling around the room trying to find my stuff to get dressed for breakfast, my Danish room-mate Nicki Sorenson lifted his head off his pillow and looked at his watch.

"Nico, will you f***ing go back to bed. It's eight o'clock."

At 37, Nicki is a three-time Danish champion and was having none of his new Irish team-mate mooching around in the mornings and wanted another hour of rest before the stage start.

To be honest, I hadn't realised it was so early and felt like a school kid who had got up too early for Santa as I sheepishly crept back into bed.

It was nice to catch up with my uncle Neil and aunt Maria, who had come to see their son Dan Martin start the stage in their adopted hometown of Girona, and there were a few Irish fans at the roadside today including An Post rider Ronan McLaughlin, over here for warm-weather training.

The break went almost straight from the gun but the first 40km were pretty stressful, with a really strong side wind causing a lot of jostling for shelter in the peloton.

Things settled down, however, as three escapees opened a lead of three minutes over the peloton and myself and Dan carried out a mobile autopsy of the opening stage as we rode along.


While I had missed the all-important split on Monday and lost 28 seconds, Dan had made the move and finished fourth on the stage, although he hadn't even realised there was a split until ages after it happened.

He was just focused on the climb and when they got to the bottom of the descent he was amazed at how big the gap was. He also said he misjudged his sprint for the finish as there were no markers in the final kilometre and started his kick for the line too far out.

A few hours later, the break was reeled in with two of the five 9.2km finishing circuits left to complete and the pace went up as the sprinters' teams tried to get their men to the front. The circuit was so narrow and twisty, with lots of traffic islands and roundabouts, that you needed to be near the front to see what was coming.

Every year I've ridden this race there has been a crash on the finishing loop but everyone managed to stay upright as we headed towards a mass bunch sprint to the line. Lately, I haven't been doing any sprinting and I feel like I've lost a bit of my finishing kick.

Today I figured it would do me no harm to get involved in the gallop and try to get the speed and rhythm of sprinting back.

I got boxed in a bit on a right handed bend in the final 500m but was keen to keep going until a big smash on the final corner, over to my right-hand side, frightened the crap out of me with about 300m to go.

Instinctively, I switched away from the side the crash happened and moved across the road to the left, pulling my brakes at the same time.

As I changed direction, an Italian who had been sprinting right behind me had nowhere to go and literally bounced off my a**e at 60kph. He must have been a good bike handler, though, because he didn't fall off.

I wasn't going to kill myself for eighth or ninth place and just freewheeled to the line for 14th as race leader Gianni Meersman of Lotto took his second stage win in a row.

Tactically nothing changed today. There was no point in me sitting up and losing 10 minutes in the hope I would be allowed into the breakaway tomorrow because there are so many guys that lost 28 seconds on day one there is bound to be at least one of them in the break tomorrow and they wont be allowed much leeway anyway.

I think tomorrow's mountain-top finish is definitely going to be one for the GC contenders. I could take an easy day and ride within myself but I want to ride hard in the mountains. My legs weren't great in Paris-Nice and if they're crap here I'll change tactics but for now, I need to push myself against the best riders and see how they are.

Usually at my new Saxo-Tinkoff team we have our own team chefs who cook us up breakfast and dinner each day but they're not with us on this race.

The food has been decent so far but tonight we're staying with six other teams in a hotel in Girona that has no restaurant. We'll all be eating dinner in a tent in the car park.

The same thing happened last year and the riders organised a petition in the hope it wouldn't happen again after some of them got sick. Obviously nobody took much notice. At least it's not snowing outside this time.

Tour of Catalunya,

Live, Eurosport 2, 2.30

Irish Independent

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