Sunday 19 November 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'I'm usually pretty strong mentally but I'm starting to worry a bit now'

Nicolas Roche in action during Stage 3 of the Tour de France 2011. Photo: Sportsfile
Nicolas Roche in action during Stage 3 of the Tour de France 2011. Photo: Sportsfile

Nicolas Roche

On Monday, after the third stage, the team doctor showed me a little trick he said would help boost my recovery. On his instructions, I asked one of the mechanics, Yoan Le Goulg, who was already pretty overworked, to cut me a 2" x 1" piece of wood into six strips of equal length.

The idea is that you put the wood under the foot of your bed at night so that you sleep with your legs slightly elevated, which is supposed to improve your circulation and aid recovery.

Putting a plank of wood underneath the bed didn't seem to be the most scientific recovery program in the world, but I thought it was worth a try. My dad's former team-mate, Scottish pro Robert Millar, used to carry two ash trays in his bag in the '80s so he could put them under the foot of his bed after each stage, so maybe there is something in it.

While I was at the dinner table with the guys, Yoan handed me the six strips of wood, wrapped up in black masking tape. When the meal was over, though, I couldn't find them anywhere. Thinking that maybe the waiter took it and disposed of it, I asked all of the restaurant staff but nobody seemed to have seen it.

This morning, Yoan wasn't too pleased when I told him I'd lost them and then asked him to cut me another six pieces. "But that took me ages Nico," he said as he poured himself a coffee on the team bus. "Where did you put them?"

"I left them on the table Yo-yo. I've no idea where they went."

As we were speaking, my team-mate Max Bouet, who'd overheard the conversation, piped up.

"Oh, the thing with the black tape on it... the wood?" asked Max.

"Yeah, did you see it?"

"Yeah... sorry. I left mine in the last hotel and I didn't know whose they were so I just took them."


Max had been in the break all day on Monday and was probably suffering but he promised to give them to me after today's stage. Yoan just threw his eyes to the sky as he knew he'd still have to cut new ones for Max.

Today is my girlfriend Chiara's birthday. I won't see her until the first rest day of the Tour next Monday, so on the way to the start in the team bus I rang my local florist and got them to deliver a bunch of flowers to her in work.

As the rain lashed down outside, there wasn't much talking on the bus on the short drive to the centre of Lorient. It's always hard to get motivated to ride in the rain and, unlike Sean Kelly and some of the tougher Irish riders, I'm always complaining about it. The guys on the team can't understand it.

"But you're Irish," they always say, "You should be used to the rain."

I always tell them that in Ireland we were smart enough to invent pubs so that we could stay out of the rain.

On a wet day there isn't much chatter in the bunch. Everybody is concentrating more because the rain and grit, mixed with diesel and oil from the traffic, make the roads like a skating rink sometimes and nobody wants to come down in the last shower.

At the team meeting this morning we decided that we should try and have somebody in the early break today and Blel Kadri went clear with four others after just 2km of racing.

Although there was a pretty good chance it would all come back together before the short sharp climb to the line atop the Mur de Bretagne, anything could have happened in the wet and they could have stayed away.

Unfortunately, though, they were reeled in with around seven kilometres remaining as the rest of us bumped and grinded our way into position for the finishing hill which was really hard. An attack by Alberto Contador with 1.5km to go started the disintegration of the peloton and when Rigoberto Uran of Sky and Jurgen Van den Broeck of Omega Pharma Lotto countered, the rest of us were left gritting our teeth to hang on.

As 10 guys dragged themselves clear with about 900m to go, I was struggling to hang on to the second 30-strong group of Bradley Wiggins and some of the other favourites. I had been in front of this group but my legs were fading and guys were starting to go past me.

With 600m to go I was dropped, but my Ag2r La Mondiale team-mate Seb Hinault caught me and rode full gas to the line. He was hoping I'd be able to sprint across the small gap to the back of Wiggo's group and not get the time split but I had completely blown and was already on my limit.

We crossed the line just a couple of seconds behind them but as the time is taken from the front of the group, I lost 19 seconds on the stage instead of just five. I finished completely wrecked. I'm a small bit disappointed with today's finish, but on the other hand, that's what I was expecting.

I was expecting to lose 15 or 20 seconds but hoping I wouldn't. I knew I didn't have the best legs today and knew it was going to be a tough one. It wouldn't have taken much for me to hang onto the second group but while the last 500m was a bit flatter, there was a lot of wind on the top of the climb and I just couldn't do it.

I'm just missing the rhythm and the ability to go deep, which is a pity but I'm still hoping that this week will bring me on a bit and I'll be able to climb next week. I've been positive about it since my crash at the Dauphine three weeks ago.

I'm trying to keep my head focused and keep my confidence up, telling myself that 'Okay, I've had a hard time but I was flying a month ago and hopefully my legs are going to come back after a few days'. But what if they don't?

I'm usually pretty strong mentally but I'm starting to worry a little bit now. I think if I had a break for two or three days and was able to recover I would have no problem. But this is the hardest race in the world and if you're not at 100pc you can see it straight away.

You don't get a break at the Tour so I just have to bite the bullet and hope for the best. Unfortunately there will be no aggressive riding for me this week. I'm just trying to survive and recover in time for the mountains. Now where's Max and those bits of wood?

Tour de France,

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Irish Independent

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