Nicolas Roche: ‘Every time I freewheeled I drastically got slower’
Wednesday, March 23 -- Stage 3: La Vall d'en Bas to Vallnord 186km
With three first-category climbs coming before the final Hors Category ascent to the stage finish in Andorra, today was always going to be an uphill battle.
We started right at the bottom of a seven-kilometre climb and it was pretty hard all the way up as the early break fought for freedom from the peloton. Eventually, a group went clear over the top and we had Sebastien Minard in the move.
Today, I was testing a pair of new lightweight climbing wheels and on the first descent, after about 30km of racing, I noticed there was something wrong with my back wheel. Every time I freewheeled, I started to slow down drastically, as if my brakes were rubbing.
I stopped and got a wheel change from the team car but my new wheel still didn't seem right. It was too fast to change it again, though, and as I was the only one using the new wheels I wasn't really sure if there was a problem or if I just wasn't going too well.
I got over the second climb in the front group and there was a pretty quick tempo after that for the rest of the stage.
Christophe Riblon put me on Alberto Contador's wheel at the bottom of the penultimate mountain, the first-category Alt de la Comella, with 30km to go. Under the pressure of the Saxo Bank team, we soon caught Sebastien and his breakaway partners and they went straight out the back door as we flew past them.
I stayed near the front until the attacks came a couple of kilometres from the top, where I drifted back but regained contact on the descent after a hard chase, just in time for the summit finish to the ski station in Andorra. I was okay for the first three or four kilometres of the finishing climb but with about five kilometres to go, I blew and just rode to the line on my own.
I wasn't going well enough to stay with the top guys but I kept riding as hard as I could to the summit as I wanted to get the most out of myself on the climb. You can't replicate those kind of efforts in training at home so it was important for me to dig in.
I thought I'd finish in the top 25 or 30 riders but after the stage I found out that I finished 40th and lost 3'29" to stage winner Contador. I knew I had lost time but didn't think it was as much as that, so I wasn't that happy with my result.
I was pretty much at my limit the whole way up but at least I was feeling better than I was last week at Paris-Nice, so I'm happy enough.
My team-mate Blel Kadri was 11th on the stage. It was a great climb for him and I'm really happy for him. Hopefully I can help him to move into the top 10 over the next few days.
I'd been talking to my cousin Daniel Martin earlier on in the day and he was feeling really comfy on the climbs so it was no surprise to see him take fourth on the stage. It's great to see Dan challenge for these big races. He loves this race. Apart from Contador and Michele Scarponi, who I think are a level above everyone else, Dan is flying.
After the stage, we had to ride back down the mountain to the team bus and as my chain started jumping and locking on the way down, I realised my new back wheel had been giving me the same problems as the first one. I was pretty p****d off.
It wasn't the mechanics' fault, though, as it was the first time we'd used the wheels and it only happened when I freewheeled so it didn't actually slow me down on the climbs. It was just strange to have the same problem happen twice in the same day.
I'm out of the GC hunt now but I'm going okay so there's no point in sitting around waiting for the race to end. I'll try and get up the road in the days ahead. I might as well try and attack. Thursday is pretty flat and will suit the sprinters so I'll probably have to wait until after then.