Friday 23 February 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'Even my dad was pleasantly surprised as I held onto my place in top 10'

Monday July 9th, Stage 9: Arc-et-Senans -- Besançon, Individual Time Trial: 41.5km

Nicolas Roche

After a two-and-a-half hour post-stage transfer to our hotel, everything ran a bit later than usual last night. By the time I checked in, had a massage, ate dinner and packed my case for this morning, I didn't get to bed until 12.30 and, after such a hard stage beforehand, I conked out as soon as I hit the pillow, which is just as well because I was up again six hours later.

I packed my suitcase last night because the team baggage truck was leaving at 8.30 this morning and I didn't want to be packing as soon as I got up. I sent everything with the truck except for what I needed for today's time trial stage, which is a lot more than a normal day's racing gear.

I kept a set of gear for training on the course this morning, one for warming up before the time trial and finally my skinsuit, which is a skintight one-piece shorts and jersey with no pockets, designed to be as aerodynamic as possible, for today's race against the clock. I also packed a shower bag, a pair of casual shorts, a T-shirt and a pair of compression tights to help me recover on the drive to the next hotel after the stage.

After breakfast at 7.0 we drove to the start for 7.45 and rode the time-trial course before the circuit closed and last man overall Romain Feillu of Saur Sojasun got the stage under way at 9.45. I could have seen the course a month ago but I went to see some stages in the Alps instead, reasoning that even if I'd already seen it, I'd still have to check it out again this morning. The finish was about 50km away, so by the time we drove back to the team hotel it was 11.0. I showered and had an hour's sleep before some stretching and lunch.

Starting order in a time trial sees riders go off in reverse order of the general classification. As I was ninth overall, I wasn't due to be on the start ramp until 16.15, but we headed to the course again at 1.45.

We arrived at 2.30 and as all my team-mates were either gone home or out on the course, I had the whole bus to myself. My dad called in and we had a bit of a chat over a coffee. He had followed a few riders around the course this morning and gave me a few pointers on the stage.

After a good warm-up on the turbo trainer, I changed my clothes again, this time into my racing kit and headed to the start ramp for my time trial with dad sitting alongside my 'directeur sportif' Julien Jurdi in the team car behind me.


Although I had only been out on it a few hours earlier, you can't memorise every corner on a 41.5km course so I told them to remind me where the dangerous corners were on the circuit, just so that I didn't hit them flat out and overshoot one. Today I got a lot of information from Julien in my earpiece, which is what I like to hear in a time trial. If the radio is quiet, I kind of panic a bit, thinking 'oh they don't want to tell me how much time I'm losing'.

Time trials have been my bogey on big stage races but today I was pretty happy with my performance and finished 23rd on the stage. I crossed the line completely empty, which is the whole idea of a time trial. If you've got any energy left, then you didn't ride hard enough.

Even my dad was pleasantly surprised. The last time he followed me in the car, I was making loads of little mistakes like using the wrong gear or cornering badly, which I didn't do today. He said he was impressed with how I have improved my technique in the last few months. They are just little faults that I knew I was making but today I got them right and held onto a place in the top 10 overall, which is what I wanted but never really expected.

Obviously I was a long way off the likes of stage winner and race leader Bradley Wiggins -- three minutes and six seconds to be exact -- but I'm happy with my ride. There are a handful of guys that dominate these type of stages, like Wiggo, his team-mate Chris Froome, former world champion Fabian Cancellara and last year's winner Cadel Evans but compared to the other riders, the guys just above me in the classification, I did pretty well, only losing around a minute or less.

Wiggo was a team-mate of mine when I first turned pro with Cofidis and we hit it off straight away. Back then he was a prologue specialist and also rode the track, but has since evolved and developed into a big Tour rider. Back in Cofidis when we talked about training, he was always on about watts and numbers and took a real scientific approach to training and there was no such thing as going out at night or anything like that. He was a real professional and still is.

Wiggo does everything by the book. It's taken him years of hard work, and a very gradual weight loss of around 9kg, to get to where he is now and it's nice to see things really working out for him.

Off the bike, he has a great dry sense of humour and loves doing impressions of people. We always had a good laugh together. We've both got different things to focus on in this Tour but if we meet in the hotel we'll have a chat and he'll always says hello during the stage, before disappearing up the front with his team.

I'm in tenth place overall, five minutes and 29 seconds behind him now and it's not going to be easy to stay there. I climbed okay the first few days, I did one of my best TT's so far today but I still have the big mountains to come and a lot of work to do to stay in the top 10.

After today's stage, I was so knackered it took me about 10 minutes to write a three-line text to one of my friends, but we have a rest day tomorrow and my girlfriend Chiara is coming to meet me tonight so I'm looking forward to my day off.

Irish Independent

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