Thursday 22 March 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'Naively, I thought when I came back I'd be flying'

Nicolas Roche
Nicolas Roche

The last major stage race before the Tour de France – the Tour de Suisse – usually consists of plenty of climbing and a couple of time trials, which means it's perfect preparation for the Tour.

The last major stage race before the Tour de France – the Tour de Suisse – usually consists of plenty of climbing and a couple of time trials, which means it's perfect preparation for the Tour.

Last year I finished 10th overall, having lost almost three minutes in the final time trial. This year, I've had a poor enough start to the season, with fifth overall at the Tour of Mediterranean my only result of note.

It has been a bit disappointing not to be able to provide my new Saxo-Tinkoff team with a good result at the start of the year but, looking back, maybe I overdid the training a bit in an effort to chase a result.

After Paris-Nice my form started to go downhill and I haven't raced since Liege-Bastogne-Liege back in April, which means I'm hoping to hone my form here and help my team-mate Roman Kreuziger fight for the overall.

I finished 37 seconds slower than Aussie stage winner Cameron Meyer of Orica GreenEdge, for 44th in today's 8.1km time trial. Although it was nothing spectacular, it was decent enough as the wind suddenly changed direction after the early starters had finished, making the second half of the bunch's times a lot slower. Although I've been training since Liege, today's race against the watch was a real pipe opener and left me coughing and spluttering for most of the evening.

Sunday, June 9: Stage 2, Quinto to Crans Montana, 170.7km

While I was looking forward to a bit of Swiss sunshine this week, I woke this morning to news that the race organisers had cancelled the first climb of the day due to a risk of avalanches.

After driving for an hour to get to the original start to sign on, we hopped back into the team cars for another hour's drive to a train station where two trains lay in wait. Then, all of the team cars drove on to the train and the whole peloton sat in the cars as the train cut through the mountain instead of riding over it.

After that, we had another 15-minute drive to the new start, where we were greeted with the good news that we had lopped about 53km off the stage, cutting it down to 117km.

With our Saxo-Tinkoff team bus having broken down on the way to the race two days ago, the team rented a camper van for the week. But because the camper van wouldn't fit on the train they had to leave early this morning and head to the finish, meaning we got changed into our racing gear – old-school style – under the boot of the car in the rain.

With a four-man break reeled in before the final 17km climb to the summit finish at Crans-Montana today, I got into a nice position near the front of the peloton ahead of the climb. About 3km from the bottom, however, somebody's discarded race cap got stuck in my back wheel, locking up my rear cassette and leaving me freewheeling out the back door.

As the peloton rode off into the sunset, I stopped at the side of the road and tore the cap out of my wheel as team-mates Michael Morkov and Matteo Tossatto waited patiently to pace me back to the peloton.

We made it back to the bunch on the corner leading into the bottom of the climb. I dived up the inside of the corner, making up about 30 places, but I still had another 100 riders or so to pass to get to the front. The adrenalin rush and panic of going out the back ensured I got near the front pretty quickly, though, and I was pretty okay until the last kilometre or so.

When eventual stage winner Bauke Mollema jumped clear on the corner with a kilometre and a half to go, my legs deserted me and I struggled to put the power down, losing 52 seconds by the line.

It was probably to be expected for my first race back after a long time off but, naively, I was hoping I was going to come back and be flying straight away. I was hoping to be close enough to the top 15 today but finished 27th on the stage and am now 25th overall, a minute and two seconds down on race leader Meyer.

My cousin Dan Martin finished sixth on the stage after an impressive bit of team riding with Ryder Hesjedal and is now 42 seconds back in 12th place.

I feel I need a bit of heat to get myself race fit and get down to my racing weight but the weather has been brutal in Europe this year with snow on most of our training camps leading up to this race. People sending me photos of their barbecues back in Ireland doesn't make it any easier. Now, a couple of hours after the stage, it's only just stopped raining. Maybe I should have ridden the Sean Nolan Grand Prix in Navan today instead.

Irish Independent

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