Nicolas Roche: 'I haven't ridden up this mountain since 2009, I still remember the pain'
Thursday, March 7, Stage 4: Brioude-Saint-Vallier 199.5km
Although I had a hot shower on the bus after yesterday's cold, wet and windswept third stage, I couldn't get warm for a long time afterwards.
The fact the heating was off in our hotel room afterwards didn't help either. It was, apparently, on a timer that thought it was summer and was not due to come on for another few hours. Our rooms were freezing and as I waited for my massage and dinner, I was forced to don a jacket before tucking myself under the blankets. My Danish room-mate Mads Christensen was already under the duvet in the other bed with his beanie hat still on!
One of the great things about my new Saxo Tinkoff team is that we have our own chefs at each race. Driving from hotel to hotel in their big mobile kitchen, Hanna and Jonathon prepare breakfast and dinner each day and yesterday's homemade soup and freshly cooked bread was much appreciated by everyone and helped keep us warm until the heating finally went on in our rooms after dinner.
Although we had driven through snow-covered climbs yesterday afternoon to get to our hotel – and therefore feared the worst for today's stage – it was nice and dry, even if the roads were covered in that gritty kind of slush you get after a thaw.
With two first category climbs within 28km of the start this morning, we knew that, if an early break went, there would be some strong riders in it and we needed to have a man up there in case they managed to forge a big enough lead to contest the stage win.
After an all-out battle for the first 45 minutes, my Danish team-mate Michael Morkov infiltrated a seven-man move, while race leader Andrew Talansky's Garmin Sharp team settled into a tempo on the front of the peloton that kept them within three or four minutes all day.
We hit the final two second category climbs with the breakaways hovering at just under a minute in front of us. With only 20km left to race from the top, I was expecting things to go a bit mental on the penultimate climb, the Col de Talencieux, but even though there were a few attacks, no team really took charge and I crossed the summit near the front on the wheel of yellow jersey Talansky with my team-mate Niki Sorenson alongside.
Niki did a great job to get me into a good position in a three-quarter headwind on the final climb after a fast descent and some strong riding in the valley by the BMC team of American Tejay Van Garderen caught the break and split the peloton, leaving around 40 of us up front.
Although nothing happened on the climb itself, with only 8km to go afterwards, riders soon started jumping clear on the descent and I went across to a move by French time trial champion Sylvain Chavanel.
Just as the group led by Sky team leader Richie Porte closed us down, I had another dig and Richie came with me. I thought that four or five riders might come across to us and, with very few riders with team-mates left alongside them to organise a chase, we'd get a little group clear to the finish like the day before. But there was a bit of a crosswind blowing which made it hard to escape and we were closed down fairly quickly.
With 40 riders in the group it was a bit of a lottery coming into the finish. I followed one or two attacks, but always hovered around 10th or 15th position. However, I didn't take into consideration that there was going to be a tailwind when we came out of a tunnel in the final 600m.
The speed was unbelievable and I couldn't pedal any faster, eventually staying where I was to finish 15th on the stage and move into the same position overall, 17 seconds behind leader Talansky.
Tomorrow is the toughest stage of this Paris-Nice, with a 14km ascent to the mountain-top finish at the first category La Montagne de Lure coming after five other big climbs.
I haven't ridden up that mountain since 2009 and I can still remember the pain. That was a tough day for me. I'd picked up an intestinal bug on holidays pre-season and I wasn't in great shape at all during that Paris-Nice. In fact, I was creeping at the beginning of the year and didn't start going well until May at the Tour of Catalunya.
Tomorrow should be a lot different. I've had no issues with sickness and I've put a lot of good solid training in over the winter. While there's a very strong field here and attacking today definitely doesn't mean I have the legs to win tomorrow, I'm feeling pretty good and I'd be disappointed if I wasn't competitive enough to move up the General Classification another bit.
Live, Eurosport, 2.15