Tuesday 24 October 2017

Nicolas Roche: The last 3,000m were just mental

Tuesday March 5 Stage 2: Vimory-Cerilly (200.5km)

The first couple of stages of Paris-Nice always start and finish in little towns in the middle of nowhere, which means it's a bit of a lottery whether you end up in a decent hotel for the night or not.

Last night we stayed in a really old, musty hotel with spring-laden beds and just enough room to open your suitcase.

Still, we had free WiFi, which is always a bonus.

My Danish room-mate Mads Christensen obviously got a decent night's sleep, though, as he was one of the first riders to attack when the flag dropped this morning.

Mads found himself out front with Latvian Gatis Smukulis of Katusha and Dutchman Kris Boeckmans of Vaconsoleil-DCM, but a really strong headwind meant that after the first intermediate sprint of the day at 50km, the trio gave up the fight and opted for the shelter of the peloton.

There was such a strong wind in our faces all day, that even though four more riders went clear shortly after, we knew it was a suicide move and we'd be seeing them again before the finish.

While the headwind kept things under control for most of the stage, there was a point just after the feed zone mid-stage where we completely changed direction and the race could have split if a team had decided to put the hammer down.

Thankfully, nobody did, but a lot of crashes happened.

Soon there were plenty of guys floating around the bunch with torn shorts or mud on their jerseys, including my Aussie team-mate Rory Sutherland, who rode into the back of a stalled rider upon returning to the peloton after a puncture.

With about 56km to go, race leader Nacer Bouhanni hit the deck on a seemingly innocuous corner.

Riding near the front, Bouhanni's bike simply slid sideways from underneath him and the first part of his body to make contact with the ground was his face.

Things eased up a little in the peloton as we waited to see if the yellow jersey would remount, but as we got confirmation over race radio that he had abandoned, the pace went up again and we caught the lead quartet with around 40km to go.

Wary of the wind and narrow roads, I stayed near the front with team-mates Nicki Sorenson and Matti Breschel for most of the stage. Matti is a good sprinter and won the green jersey at the Tour of Ireland a few years ago.

Today I tried to give him a hand to get into a decent position in the final kilometres.

Yesterday we'd planned to do the same, but he came up to me with 30km to go and told me he wasn't feeling the best and wasn't going to sprint.

The last 3km today were just mental, with lots of pushing and shoving. I just switched off the brain and tried to stay upright. Sometimes it's worth making the extra effort to ride out in the wind to try and keep out of trouble.

I brought Matti up nearer the front twice, but there was so much jostling and nudging that we eventually got boxed in on the right hand side of the road.

Going under the kilometre-to-go banner, rattling along at around 50km/h, Matti had somehow got himself stuck in a little gutter at the side of the road with me sitting right behind him up on the tarmac.

Up ahead, one of the Sojasun riders punctured and as he hit reverse we looked to be heading straight for him.

Matti tried to get up onto the smooth road and out of the way, but Dennis Vanendert of Lotto grabbed him by the shoulder to keep him down in the groove and use Matti to propel himself forward.

Although I was on the road, I was terrified, because I knew if he pulled Matti down, I was going down too. At the last second however, Matti flicked out and we swerved out of the way and stayed upright.

Having lost any hope of a good result, Matti finished 21st behind German stage winner Marcel Kittel with me finishing 25th on the stage.

I moved up another four places to 57th overall and am now 20 seconds off new race leader Elia Viviani of Canondale.

It's been a pretty intense couple of days so far and there's more of the same tomorrow.

Paris-Nice Race, Live, Eurosport, 1.45

Irish Independent

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