Sunday 17 December 2017

Nicolas Roche: 'Nico, take this, it's all I have left, but I'm going to blow up any minute'

Wednesday, July 11, Stage 10
Mâcon to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine 194.5km

After the rest day, my legs were given a rude awakening as scores of riders surged up the road from the gun today, trying to establish a gap over the peloton in the hope they could escape to victory.

Most people think that the stage finish is the hardest part, but we covered 50km in the first hour of racing before a 25-man group got clear.

My Ag2r team were a bit disappointed not to have two riders in it, but at least we had one in my co-leader, Jean Christophe Peraud, and I finished in the peloton, to move ninth overall.

In the couple of minutes respite we did get after the group opened a sufficient gap, my cousin Dan rode alongside, warning me not to forget the severity of the first climb of the day, the 20km long second category Cote de Corlier, which began after 73km.

"Remember? We rode up it in the Dauphine last year and it was fairly hard," said Dan, who was 90th on this stage and is now 74th overall.

I stayed near the front, with Mikael Cherel alongside me on the climb, and then, on the descent, had Sebastian Hinault to lead me into the bottom of the biggest mountain of the day, the Hors Category Grand Colombiere.

Halfway up the 18km back-breaker, as Edvald Boassen Hagen set a good tempo at the head of the peloton for his team-mate and race leader Bradley Wiggins, Maxime Bouet was my only team-mate left and was close to blowing his lights. Max made one last big effort to ride up to me before handing me his bottle: "Nico, take this, it's all I have left, but I'm going to blow up any minute," he gasped.

There were only a couple of swigs of water left, but at least it saved my own drink for the climb to the summit, where I grabbed a fresh one from one of our team soigneurs at the roadside.

The breakaway group were led over the top by eventual stage winner Thomas Voeckler of Europcar, the pressure seeing Jean Christophe dropped and the 25-man group fall to pieces.

I have to give Jurgen Van Den Broeck, of Lotto Belisol, credit for trying something -- even if I'm not sure it was the right tactic. The Belgian began the stage just nine seconds ahead of me in ninth place overall and we all watched as he half-attacked a few times on the climb. I think the first few digs were just to get a feel of whether Sky would chase him or not and when there was no major reaction, he went again and was joined by Voeckler's team-mate Piere Rolland.

The duo continued riding and Van Den Broeck took back 32 seconds, which moved him up to eighth overall.

On the descent, we were all wary of Vincenzo Nibali's downhill skills and tried to stay as close as possible to the Italian, but when Mick Rogers punctured on a tricky corner with some melted tar on the road he almost brought down Wiggins, with me on his wheel. Having rounded him to stay upright, I let the yellow jersey past me to get back onto his other team-mate, Chris Froome's wheel. 'Wiggo' was worried he was going to get attacked on the descent, but he has improved his descending and was pretty calm.

Kamikaze Nibali eventually went clear alone, but it was always going to be difficult to stay away into a head wind in the final 20kms.

With 32km to go, we hit the bottom of the final climb, the third category Col de Richemond and I was in a bit of trouble. I had dropped my chain onto the little ring for the ascent, but soon my legs were spinning too much and I couldn't catch my breath properly. I remembered Max Bouet's advice in the bus this morning that it wasn't as steep as it looked and switched back into the big chain-ring and it was much better.

There were only about 20 of us left at the head of the peloton and, as we climbed, Alejandro Valverde, of Movistar, was going through the group, asking riders if they had any food. The Spaniard rode alongside me: "Nico, algo de comer?"

But I was in the same boat and had nothing either. I miscalculated my food today and ate much more than I thought I would have on the Grand Colombiere. Before the bottom of the climb I had three energy gels and a bar left, and thought that would be enough for the last 50km, but I ate the gels on the way up and the bar on the way down and now I was starving again.

I rode alongside my friend and former team-mate Maxime Monfort. Even though we are on different teams now, he gave me a bar and saved me from hitting the wall, or as cyclists say, 'getting the bonk'. With about 10km to go, Valverde came back to me and asked me if I wanted a cereal bar. I think he got food because his team-mate Rui Costa had been dropped on the climb and grabbed some food on the way back through the team cars.

Near the top, Tejay Van Garderen, of BMC, was dropped. The American, wearing the white jersey of best young rider, had started the day just 15 seconds ahead of me in ninth overall, so I knew I was moving up one place if he didn't regain contact.

As Van Den Broeck began to open enough time to leapfrog Monfort and Haimar Zubeldia in the overall standings their Radioshack team started to chase, but left it pretty late. I thought they would react much quicker, especially with five riders in a group of 20, but I suppose with four of them in the top 16 overall, they had to decide who was going to ride for who.

Looking around at my nearest rivals today, Zubeldia (sixth), Monfort (seventh) and Janez Brajkovic of Astana (13th) all looked very comfortable. Rein Taramae (12th) looked good too, but he sometimes has a very good day and then a bad day, while Van Den Broeck (eighth) was obviously flying.

Although Van Garderen regained contact on the final descent, he was dropped and lost 17 seconds on the drag to the line, which leaves me two seconds ahead of him overall. Tejay is a very promising young rider. From his time trial the other day, when he finished fourth, you could see that he's a really talented guy. He might not be as good in the really high mountains yet, but another long time trial on the penultimate stage means I will have to try and put four or five minutes into him to stay ahead.

Tomorrow is a really hard stage, with two Hors Category climbs and a first category finish atop La Toussire. I know the route well as I've have had numerous training camps there.

The manager was obviously disappointed that Peraud didn't finish with the leaders today. It's the second day that we've had riders in the winning break but they didn't stay -- but the team is very focused around me and hopefully I won't disappoint them over the next few days.

Tour de France

Live, TG4/ITV 4/Eurosport 12.0

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