Monday 18 December 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'I knew it wasn't going to be my day when I locked myself in the loo. I'm really p***** off'

Wednesday, July 12, Stage 11: Albertville -- La Toussuire -- Les Sybelles 148km

Yellow jersey holder Bradley Wiggins of England leads the chasing pack down the Croix de Fer pass during yesterday’s 11th stage of the Tour de France
Yellow jersey holder Bradley Wiggins of England leads the chasing pack down the Croix de Fer pass during yesterday’s 11th stage of the Tour de France

I suppose I should have known today wasn't exactly going to be my day when it started off with me locking myself in the loo on the team bus before the stage start. Normally when you lock the loo door on the bus, the lights come on automatically, but this morning nothing happened.

An effort to open it again failed due to an electrical fault or something and as our bus driver had gone for a walk around the Tour village while we were getting dressed, I ended up sitting in the dark for about 10 minutes as my team-mates slagged me while they got changed for the start.

Today's stage was pretty savage, with two Hors Category climbs and one second-category mountain before the first-category finish at La Toussuire. Climbs on the Tour were first categorised almost 100 years ago according to whatever gear the race director's car could get up them in. For instance, the hardest first-category climb could only be driven up in first gear and so on.

Nowadays, they have climbs such as the Col de Madeleine and the Col de la Croix Fer, which are so hard that they are deemed Hors Category or 'beyond categorisation'. As it happened, we rode up both of those, with the 26km long Col de Madeleine coming just 14km after the start. My cousin Dan (Martin) and I had a quick chat at the start and he told me he was planning to attack here and soon he was going clear in a 30- strong group.

I got over the top in pretty good shape, near the front of the peloton and was well placed coming to the foot of the next mountain, the 20km long Croix de Fer. With the breakaway around four minutes up the road and Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen setting a steady tempo on the front of the peloton for his team leader and yellow jersey Bradley Wiggins, everything was going pretty well until last year's winner Cadel Evans attacked and rode up to his BMC team-mate Tejay van Garderen, who had gone clear a kilometre or so earlier.

Sometimes you just go from feeling okay to not feeling okay. There's no in between. With about 70km left in the stage and two and a half mountains still to be ridden, the reaction from Sky saw me struggle to hold the pace and I began to drift towards the back of the group, which was beginning to whittle down rapidly, with more riders getting dropped just ahead of me.

Because it was so early in the stage, I really dug in to try and stay in contact. I hung on for a little while, but when I blew, I just exploded. I can't really explain the feeling. You're climbing at 16kph and you're fine, then the pace goes up to 18kph and you can't follow it. You just change from one zone to another and you're gone.

It was still a long way to the top and I only had team-mate Mikael Cherel alongside me until Blel Kadri -- who had been dropped from the leading break on the climb -- noticed I wasn't with the yellow jersey group as they passed him and waited for me on the climb. We tried to keep a good rhythm to the top before Mikael and I did a really crazy descent to get back onto the group. Mikael almost crashed on the way down, overshooting a corner and ending up on a back road.

We caught Basso, Valverde and Weening, who had also been dropped by the breakaway and passed by the yellow jersey group, but they left us to chase, eventually catching the yellow jersey group with 40km to go, right at the bottom of the second category Col du Mollard.


With Evans finally reeled in, Sky set a steadier tempo on the climb and I survived the 5km ascent with the group, but was wary as we descended towards the finish at La Toussuire. I know the climb like the back of my hand as I've done it at least 15 times in the last few years on team training camps here, but I knew on the Croix de Fer that if I managed to regain contact with the favourites group, it was going to be very difficult to hang on.

As the breakaways fell to pieces up the road, we passed a bedraggled- looking Dan right at the bottom of the final climb. I knew I was going to blow up sometime, but I was hoping it would be in the last 5km rather than with around 11km to go when Vincenzo Nibali attacked. Already riding at my limit, the sudden surge of pace meant I couldn't respond at all and I was dropped again.

A few metres later, a group containing Chris Horner, Haimar Zubeldia and Andreas Kloden of Radioshack and a couple of others went out the back door, as they had also done on the Croix de Fer. Zubeldia had begun the stage just three places ahead of me on the GC and I had based my climb on trying to stay with him. I was trying to keep them a few metres ahead, but I could see the cars in front of me going away and soon I was left on my own in a tunnel of pain.

Dragging my bike through a wall of noise, I finished 19th on the stage (Dan finished 33rd to take up 51st place overall), but I had lost almost two and a half minutes to Zubeldia's group and, more importantly, five minutes and 14 seconds to the yellow jersey group. I lost more time today than I have in the whole first 10 days of the Tour and I am now almost 11 minutes down on race leader Wiggins.

I'm really p***** off. I really thought I was capable of better today.

It's not all bad, though, I'm still 13th overall and now that I am so far down time wise, I will have a bit more freedom to go in breakaways and will be able to ride aggressively. Tomorrow's stage begins with two first-category climbs and having checked it out with the team back in May I know it's going to be more pain, so I will probably have to wait until the Pyrenees to do something.

Morale in the team isn't great, but I haven't seen much of anybody yet because my day is ending much the same as it began, with me locked in a toilet, this time trying to pee for a dope test. As they might say in France: "Oh well, no piss for ze wicked!"

Tour de France

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