Nicolas Roche: 'If you're going to jump a roundabout at 60kph, you better get it right'
Saturday, June 30: Liege -- Prologue time trial 6.7km
It was pretty tense at the team hotel in Liege this morning with Tour virgin Mikael Cherel extra nervous as we left for an hour-and-a half spin to get the legs going. The traffic was so bad in the city centre that after lunch myself and team-mate Jean Christophe Peraud cycled to the prologue course, completing three laps before having a coffee and a chat on the team bus.
The prologue time trial is an exciting way to start the Tour and I could really feel the pressure go up while waiting on the start ramp for the 6.7km race against the clock.
The course was very fast, with a few little cobbled sections and some technical corners, but it's only seven and a half minutes long so you've got to find your rhythm pretty quickly and try to hold it. You can't think of keeping something for the last 500m.
Swiss specialist Fabian Cancellara is the best at these stages. He's extremely powerful and whereas he won't be able to follow me in the mountains, he easily took 25 seconds out of me today, averaging 53kph for the stage.
Obviously, having finished 56th on the stage I could have done better but most of my direct GC rivals were five seconds ahead or behind me.
If I was disappointed by the crowd at the team presentation on Thursday, today's course was just a wall of noise and I saw plenty of Irish flags along the course, including a massive two-storey tricolour hanging out of one of the Irish pubs.
Having two riders here this year will hopefully give the sport a boost at home and the fact that it's my cousin Dan Martin who's riding makes it all the more special, even if he did beat me by one place today.
Sunday, July 1, Stage 1: Liege to Seraing -- 198km
The team plan today was to get somebody up the road if a big enough group went away early on. Maxime Bouet got into a six-man group and we didn't see them again until 8km to go.
They never got more than four minutes though, and as they hovered in front of us it was pretty calm in the bunch for a lot of the stage. With 95km to go, and the break four minutes up, the peloton allowed a good friend of mine, Maxime Monfort of Radioshack, to go ahead of the field so that he could stop for a few minutes to greet his wife and daughter, who lived on the route and were at the side of the road.
As we rolled along today, I got a chance to talk to my cousin Dan, who is making his Tour debut for the Garmin Sharp team. Last year we were away together on a mountain stage in the Vuelta and I think some people thought there was a bit of rivalry between us, but I just attacked because I thought it was the right time to go. I was right because Dan won the stage.
Some countries do have riders who don't talk to each other or even hate each other but the only time there is any rivalry between any of the Irish riders is when we do the national championships because we all want to win it and wear the jersey in the pro peloton.
Today, Dan and I talked about our prologue results and whether it was more likely to win the lotto or for two cousins to finish within one second and one place of each other on the stage. Then he said that his team-mate Dave Zabriskie finished 69th in the prologue while wearing number 69.
As the finish neared, it got really hectic in the last 35km and there were loads of crashes. I was near at least three of them but was lucky enough to get around them. My team-mate and co-leader Jean Christophe Peraud was involved in a big crash when a guy stood out in the road to take a picture and somebody hit him with his shoulder, but Hubert Dupont and Blel Kadri waited for him and he got back on with about 15km to go.
A tailwind in the last 10km made the approach to the final climb extremely fast, with everyone struggling to hold their positions in the line. Travelling at over 60kph, we were going so fast that when we came to a roundabout at one point we couldn't go around it and with no space to move out of the way, we all had to jump it. It's not so bad doing this if you're approaching the kerb head on but come at it at an angle and you soon wind up in a heap.
I wasn't in the best position on the finishing climb and made a big effort to get back to the front but when I got there I hesitated a few times and found myself out in the wind trying to hold my place and messed it up a bit, finishing 18th on the stage as race leader Cancellara dragged eventual stage winner Peter Sagan clear.
Max too was disappointed with his day. He'd hoped to get on the podium by winning the King of the Mountains jersey but was beaten over all four climbs. Then, as his group was being caught with 9km to go, Max attacked again as a last resort. Even though he had no chance of holding us off, there is a prize every day for the most combative rider and usually whoever does this wins the prize but they gave it to Nicolas Edet of Cofidis instead. Max wasn't too happy on the team bus afterwards.
Today, Dan was eighth on his first Tour de France stage, exactly the same as I was in Brignoles in 2009. He is now 24th while I'm 25th overall. I guess we have more coincidences to talk about tomorrow.