Friday 23 March 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'If you don't like cycling, just stay at home'

Saturday, July 14, Stage 13: Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux -- Le Cap d'Agde 217km

Nicolas Roche

I was woken this morning by the phone ringing in my hotel room at around 7.30. It turned out to be my room-mate Jean Christophe Peraud's wife, phoning to tell him she wouldn't be able to come to see him at the finish as she was in labour and on her way into hospital to have his second child.

I don't know how the news affected Jean Christophe, but it must have been hard to concentrate all day, not knowing how his wife was or whether he had a new son or daughter.

Bastille Day in France is the beginning of a massive holiday weekend so we left earlier than usual for the start. At the Tour Village, I had a chat over a coffee with my mum, my nana Roche and my younger brothers Alexis and Florian. Alexis started racing as an U-14 last year and was all excited because he had persuaded my mother to bring his bike with him and let him ride up the nearby Mont Ventoux, one of the legendary mountains of the Tour.

A breakaway, including my team-mate Max Bouet, went clear after 5km and for the rest of the day, various teams chased, then stopped, then chased again before the last 35km, where a strong crosswind broke the race up in pieces.


Riding into a headwind, you can save 20pc of your energy by sheltering directly behind someone else. In a crosswind, the wind is coming from an angle, so you have to position yourself about halfway up the rider in front's bike, in order to get shelter.

This results in a diagonal line -- an echelon -- running from the windy side of the road to the other, with the guys stuck in the gutter at the end of the echelon not getting any shelter.

If a team wants to put pressure on, in a crosswind, they go to the front and only go across far enough to give shelter to their team-mates, with the rest of us lined out in the gutter behind them. This is what the BMC squad of defending champion Cadel Evans did today, and all hell broke loose. There was a lot of shoving, pushing and barging of elbows in an effort to get out of the wind, and every little movement up front caused a ripple in the line which became a tidal wave by the time it got to the last riders.

With 25km to go, we hit a 1.5km-long climb which was very steep and fast. Not wanting to lose contact in the surge over the top, I followed Evans when he jumped clear near the summit, but we didn't get too far before yellow jersey Bradley Wiggins rode up behind us and nullified the move. I was at 90pc going up that climb so I was hoping there weren't many guys left in the group.

I saw there were only 20 guys left and was hoping Sky would drill it to the finish and put time into anyone who hadn't made the move, but they eased up a bit, and with 17km to go, a big group including sprinter Andre Greipel got back on after the descent.

With some of the other sprinters dropped, his Lotto team formed their own little echelon at the front and absolutely tore into the finish. With 3km to go, the pressure saw a couple of guys in front of me pull out of the gutter line. I jumped into the wind and sprinted flat out to get around them and back into the echelon, only for the next guy to sit up as well and for me to lose contact with the diminishing group.

Instinctively, I swung over to the right-hand side of the road where, behind me, another echelon had formed. We held the tail end of the front group at about five metres on the opposite side of the road until we came to a few roundabouts and were able to close the gap. I just held my position in the sprint for 19th, as Greipel took his third stage win and my team-mate Seb Hinault took fourth into Cap d'Agde, a resort famous for its massive nudist beach.

On the bus afterwards we learned that Jean Christophe's wife had given birth to a baby girl named Valentine and he got special permission from the Tour to be allowed to drive the two-and-a-half hours to the hospital.

Although we had an hour's transfer to our hotel and didn't get to stay near the nudist beach, you can imagine the slagging poor Max got when he emerged from the shower in a pair of swimming trunks ready for a post-stage ice bath.

Sunday, July 15, Stage 14: Limoux -- Foix 191km

The early part of this stage was fairly chaotic with the break trying to go clear before the second-category 12km climb of the Col du Portel, which came 22km after the start.

At the top, there were only about 40 guys in the front group, with both Andreas Kloden and Franck Schleck of Radioshack -- who began ahead of me on GC -- dropped on the climb.

The past week or so, myself and Schleck have been leapfrogging each other in the standings and this morning I was pretty happy he was gone, even though I knew he had plenty of time to come back.

After a while, with the breakaway now established, I was riding along in the bunch when I got a tap on the shoulder. I turned around to see Schleck with a big smiley head on him.

"Hello, I'm baaa-aack. Bet you were happy to see me dropped?"

"Yeah Frank, I was happy", I laughed. "But I knew you'd be back eventually."

I tried to stay near the front on the following two first-category mountains nearer the end of the stage and as we crested the final climb of the Mur de Peguere, with 40km left, I was sitting on Wiggins' wheel in about sixth place.

At the summit, I noticed Evans swinging over to the side of the road with a puncture, but I didn't pay much heed to it. I'd forgotten that the climb was so narrow that team cars weren't allowed up it and we were to be serviced by the yellow Mavic neutral service cars dotted at the roadside.

As Evans waited, screaming into his race radio for a wheel, his team-mate Steve Cummings arrived alongside him with a puncture of his own and the Aussie was left stranded as we began the descent.

A few hundred metres down the road, Janez Brajkovic punctured a wheel in front of me and his team-mate Robert Kiserlovski tried to stop to give him his, but in doing so, got clipped by a couple of riders going past and ending up in the ditch with a broken collarbone.

A few metres later I cursed my luck as I too punctured my back wheel. With no service cars or team-mates around to give me a replacement, I weighed up the situation, took a few risks and kept descending. Because I was on the rim, my rear wheel was sliding all over the place as I tried to stay upright. As I half descended, half slid down the road I noticed a line of riders standing at the roadside waiting on wheels as guys who had been dropped on the climb flew past.


After about 3km of sliding, I spotted a neutral service car up ahead. With the mechanic hopping back into the car after giving someone a wheel, they were about to pull away when he heard me screaming at them.

One wheel change later, I remounted just as my team-mates Max and Blel Kadri caught me from the group behind and we descended together until we got back to the front of the decimated peloton.

At that point, Pierre Rolland had attacked, ignoring a truce called by Wiggins to allow Evans -- who had since punctured three times -- back into the peloton.

The breakaway was 15 minutes up the road and the stage win was gone, so there was no reason for the attack apart from taking advantage of the situation to move himself up the general classification.

Lotto and Liquigas rode flat out to reel him in before we all eased up again and a grateful Evans regained contact.

Moving through the group, everybody was talking about what happened and that it couldn't be a coincidence that all of the punctures happened on the same stretch of road. It turned out that some idiots had thrown a box of carpet tacks on the road a few yards before the summit, causing 28 punctures for no good reason.

Although a general truce in the peloton meant nothing really changed overall, these gobs****s could have cost Evans a podium place and were also responsible for Kiserlovki's broken collarbone. That's just bulls**t. If you don't like cycling, just stay at home.

Tour de France,

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