Sunday 25 February 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'Robbie Williams was in my room giving it socks '

Tour diary

Nicolas Roche

Some nights on the Tour, you're so wrecked that you fall asleep on the bus before you even get to the hotel. Other nights, you replay the stage over and over in your head or think about other stuff and just can't get to sleep.

On Sunday, I went to bed around 10.0 and, having flicked through the available channels in the hotel bedroom, I opted for the film 'Finding Nemo' over various French talk shows.

I thought, 'this will help me sleep -- it's nice and quiet and relaxing.' But once I switched it off, Robbie Williams decided to continue singing the theme song of the movie, only this time I had a private audience and nobody else could hear it.

"Somewhe-r-e beyond the sea... somewhere waiting for me-e-e..."

We've been in the same hotel for five nights now and I've grown accustomed to my new bed so that wasn't the reason I had trouble sleeping. I had no snoring team-mate to blame as there was nobody else in the room, well, except for Robbie, who was still giving it socks an hour later.

"My lover stands on golden sa-a-ands... and watches the ships that go sa-i-ling"

The more I thought 'I need to go asleep', the harder it was to nod off. Robbie, however, was still fresh as a daisy at midnight.

"She's there watching for me. If I could fly, like birds on hi-i-igh, then straight to her arms I'd go sailing..."

Half an hour later, I'd finally begun to drift off when I heard a commotion outside. The Saxo Bank team kitchen truck was parked right outside my bedroom window. I don't know if they were cleaning up after dinner or what, but at 12.30 I had to get up and knock on the window to tell them to shut the hell up.

I think Robbie got the message too and he finally left me alone in the land of nod.

Today the plan was to stay out of trouble and thankfully, that's what I did. The break went very early, right from the gun in fact. I was halfway down the bunch as we left the first town and heard on the radio that two guys were already up the road, a Euskaltel rider and a Francaise de Jeux rider.

Then, two seconds later, there were three more guys chasing, including my team-mate Maxime Bouet. It wasn't part of the team plan before the stage. That was Max doing some improvisation.

After just three kilometres, the lead quintet had 45 seconds and they eventually got a maximum of seven minutes over the peloton.

We knew it was a bit of a suicide move, though, as today was one of the only true flat stages in the first week where the sprinters would get the chance to fight it out for stage victory.

There has been a change in the scoring in the points classification this year, with a new system introduced where more points are up for grabs in the intermediate sprint during each stage and this has changed the race slightly.

In the five kilometres before the intermediate sprint each day, the bunch really speeds up as the sprinters try to claim enough points to take over the green jersey.

In those five kilometres, the breakaway's advantage just melts. On Saturday the break lost three minutes in 10km and today they lost another two minutes in just 5km. I think the new system is a killer for the breakaways and I don't think it was a good idea.


They say it was to make the battle for the green jersey more interesting, but I think the competition for the green jersey over the last three or four years was always very good anyway. Maybe they're looking for non-sprinters to get involved in the competition.

I think someone like Philippe Gilbert could do well this year if he keeps going for the intermediate sprints.

He can win stages and get in breakaways in the mountains and if he continues to pick up 10 points here and 20 points there, he could end up in green in Paris.

In other years, there were more possibilities that the break would go to the end but now I think everybody is fighting for the points and it almost neutralises everything midway through the stage.

Once the guys went hard in the bunch today, Max and his group lost time pretty quickly and only had a couple of minutes going onto the only climb of the day, which was actually a big suspension bridge.

Whoever won the sprint at the top would be in the King of the Mountains jersey at the end of the stage and we all hoped Max could pull it off.

Before the bridge, we swung into a crosswind and it got a bit hectic as everybody was afraid a split would go in the gusts and gaps would open.

The final 50km was a bit hairy, too, as the sprinters jockeyed for position and Max's group was eventually caught with around 25km of the stage left.

It was pretty nervous in the bunch again today. I had Blel Kadri and Sebastien Minard with me for most of the day, keeping me out of the wind and out of trouble. In the final sprint, I just tried to stay far enough away from the front to avoid danger but near enough not to lose any time.

I rounded the final corner to see Cofidis sprinter Sammy Dumoulin tumble head over heels to my right but luckily nobody else fell and I lost no time, actually moving up one place to 40th overall, 53 seconds down on the yellow jersey.

My Ag2r La Mondiale team-mate Seb Hinault put in a great finishing sprint to take fourth on the stage behind Tyler Farrar, Romain Feillu and Jose Rojas Gil. The team is happy with that and Seb was delighted to get a top five in his native region of Brittany.

A punchy little rider, Seb has spent a lot of time on the Tour working for other sprinters, including yellow jersey Thor Hushovd when they were at Credit Agricole together.

Yesterday he got a clear run for himself and got a great result despite having three stitches in his calf from the day before.

On the team bus afterwards, we felt sorry for Max, having spent most of the day out front only to be caught in the end, but it didn't stop the guys from slagging him.

"Did you get the mountains jersey Max?" "Non."

"Did you get the sprints jersey?" "Non."

"Did you get the most aggressive rider then?" "Non."

"Ah well, at least you'll be able to buy us a drink tonight with the money they must have paid you to let them win the sprints in the break!"

"Non, non, I just misjudged the sprint," Max started. "I didn't see the line..."

But everyone burst out laughing and told him not to worry about it, that we were only joking. "B****rds."

I've roomed with Max for a lot of the early season and we get on really well. At 24, he is riding his second Tour de France and said at the start this year that he wanted to go in a few breakaways and try and win the most aggressive rider prize overall. He is probably going to pay for today's efforts on the next couple of stages but hopefully he will recover and be able to have another go later on.

Irish Independent

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