Monday 28 May 2018

Nicolas Roche: ‘I ran out of legs 100m out, which is alot in a sprint’

Paris-Nice Diary: Stage 4, Wednesday March 9 Crechessur-saone to Belleville - 191km

Nicolas Roche

On the team bus this morning there was talk of me going up the road in an early move and gambling on trying for a stage win.

But after a bit of discussion, my team managers agreed that the peloton wasn’t likely to let me go clear and even if they did, they would keep me on a short leash and reel me in at the end.

I felt that a break of four or five riders would go clear at the start, but the stage wouldn’t be hard enough and HTC would be able to defend their yellow jersey and would catch them again. I was right about the four or five riders, but when they went, we never saw them again.

Hubert Dupont’s wife and baby twins were at the start as the stage went over his local training roads. Naturally, Hubert wanted to get up the road, so he was a bit disappointed to miss the move when it went.

I started in the middle of the bunch and the first 5km climb was a real stinger because we rode up it flat out as Thomas Voeckler of Europcar went to the front and strung us out into one long line.

Voeckler was pretty impressive on the next climb, too, which came straight after the descent from the first. He continued to try and get clear and eventually succeeded in dragging four others, including former yellow jersey Thomas De Gendt away with him after about 25km of hardcore racing.

With seven categorised climbs and over 3,400 metres of climbing, today was a real wearing-down process. I was going okay today, but the climbs were pretty draggy and there was never a really big injection of pace.

I was pretty comfortable all day, but the lack of a really steep mountain meant that there were still a lot of sprinters left in the bunch at the finish. Although Voekler and De Gendt had dropped one of the fellow escapees and only held a minute’s lead for the last 25km, they managed to hang on and fight it out for the stage win.

Voeckler is one of the smartest riders in the bunch and a real winner. When he has the opportunity to win, he almost always manages to produce the goods. Even though he was gritting his teeth as De Gendt pulled the break along in the final kilometres in the knowledge that he would regain the race lead if they stayed away, Voeckler was canny enough to win the gallop for victory.

As the peloton approached the finish 13 seconds later, Blel Kadri came up to me and said “come on let’s try for the sprint for fifth”. The finish itself was great – a good long straight with no mad bends in the final metres.

Eager to please as usual, Blel started his sprint with 600m to go, but the headwind was a lot stronger than he anticipated. I shouted at him to keep going, but he was soon on the limit and eventually faded about 300m out. I came around him and sprinted all out, but ran out of legs and came up about 100m short, which is a lot in a sprint. But at least we got some good practice in for the future.

I haven’t been in that position for a couple of months and after the line I turned back to Blel and had a quick talk with him. I thanked him for his efforts in the lead-out and promised him that when I was in top form I’d repay him with a win this year.

Tonight we’re staying in the same hotel for the second night in a row. It’s not exactly the lap of luxury, so even though it was only a kilometre from today’s finish line, after the stage everyone decided to have their shower on the bus instead.

Sebastian Minard is still suffering from the effects of his crash on the opening day. His thigh is covered in road rash and every day he has to scrub his wounds to try to keep them clean. Today he emerged from the shower looking like a ghost and almost collapsed into his seat on the bus with the pain.

He says it’s actually getting worse and the bruise on his thigh is getting bigger every day. But he has been doing a fantastic job for me, keeping me out of the wind, fed and watered all week.

I moved up five places to 17th overall. I was climbing near the front and feeling pretty comfortable today, but it’s hard to say I’m flying just because I got over a few 5km climbs.

Thursday’s Stage 5 should sort out the men from the boys with seven more mountains to come – including the first-category ascents of the Col du la Croix du Chaubouret and the Col de la Múire, the summit of which is just 10km from the finish.

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