Nicolas Roche: 'I spent the last few kilometres like a giraffe with my head up looking out for trouble ahead'
Monday, July 2, Stage 2: Visé to Tournai -- 207.5km
If anybody had any doubts that today would end in a mass bunch sprint into Tournai, most of them were dispelled this morning when half the peloton, or at least the sprinters' teams anyway, turned up to the start line wearing skinsuits and full aero helmets.
The deep section rims on their wheels also gave away their intentions of gaining as much aerodynamic advantage as possible in order to keep the speed high in the final kilometres and discourage late attacks.
Because of this, my Ag2r La Mondiale team decided not to cover any breakaway attempts unless a group of eight or 10 riders went clear. Any less than that and we knew they had no hope of fending off three or four teams hell bent on reeling them in over the second half of the stage.
The deal was that Seb Hinault could contest the sprint and the rest of the guys would spend the day with me and Jean Christophe Peraud and keep us sheltered, fed and watered, and out of trouble for the day.
Not surprisingly, very few riders were motivated to go in the breakaway today and it took about 20km before anyone even bothered making a move. Eventually, Christophe Kern from Europcar, Anthony Roux of FDJ BigMat and King of the Mountains leader Michael Morkov from Saxo Bank got clear and began to build up a lead of about seven minutes.
For the past few days I've been wearing a new pair of shoes that Specialized made for me just before the Tour. They are white with a red instep and are pretty easy to spot in the peloton. Today, however, about 30km into proceedings, as the bunch were settling into their rhythm, I radioed to the team car and told them I wanted my old shoes out of my spare bag.
I don't know if it was in my head or what but one of my cleats just didn't feel right, even though I'm pretty sure it's in exactly the same place as on my old shoes. Often if you don't fit the new shoe plates exactly the same as the old ones, your knee can be slightly out of line and can result in tendonitis or even worse. I don't know whether the fact that my team-mate Lloyd Mondory had already been forced to pull out of the Tour team on the eve of the race due to a knee injury from a new pair of shoes was a factor in my decision, but I stopped and changed them anyway. It could have been completely in my head but sometimes the head is the only thing that keeps you pedalling your bike, so it was better safe than sorry.
There was a very strong three-quarter headwind blowing into our faces today so it was important to be well positioned and to stay sheltered and use up as little energy as possible.
As the three-man break disappeared into the distance, I spent a few minutes talking to stage one winner Peter Sagan of Liquigas. At just 22-years-old he has already won 14 pro races and yesterday took his first Tour de France stage win on his Tour debut.
Sagan is nicknamed 'the Terminator' and the Slovakian is known as a real hard man on a bike. Weather doesn't bother him and he's not afraid to put himself in danger to win a sprint. As we rode along chatting in Italian for a few kilometres today he showed me his new team-issue bike, custom sprayed as a reward for his stage win yesterday.
While the frame is gun metal in colour, with the Cannondale logo in luminous green to match his Liquigas jersey, Sagan's bike has the skull of the robot from the Terminator movie airbrushed on to the head tube, complete with luminous green eyes and the word 'Tourminator' painted in big luminous green letters across the top of his crossbar. I have to say I was almost as impressed as he was.
Coming into the last 35km or so, the pace really increased and it was very nervous as various teams tried to get their sprinters or their General Classification riders up to the front and out of harms way.
With 13km to go, George Hincapie, Marcus Burghardt and Manuel Quinziato of BMC drilled it up the right-hand side of the bunch in an effort to get team leader and last year's Tour winner Cadel Evans up to safety, only to discover he had missed the boat and was stuck in the crowd somewhere behind them. Cursing, the trio eased back in search of the Aussie and it would take another 3km to get him to the front, only to be swamped by the sprinters' teams a few minutes later.
The plan for me was to stay near enough the front to avoid any splits but far enough back to be able to avoid a crash. There was a lot of jostling for position and I spent the last few kilometres like a giraffe with my head up looking out for trouble ahead.
Thankfully, there were no crashes and I crossed the line in the middle of the bunch as Mark Cavendish took yet another Tour stage win. I moved up one place in the overall standings today and am now 24th overall, 25 seconds behind race leader Fabian Cancellara. My cousin Dan Martin is one place and a single second ahead of me in 23rd.
Tour de France,
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