Sunday 18 February 2018

Nicolas Roche: 'The riders are just the show and when the show is over, we become nothing again'

It's been really crazy trying to get to and from hotels on this Tour. Every single night so far, we've had an hour-and-a-half to two-hours drive to our hotel. After a stage, all you want to do is get to your room and lie on the bed and relax but it seems that everybody else is given priority to the riders in the traffic.

We're not footballers or movie stars so we have no police escorts, but the Tour guests and VIPs always seem to be waved through traffic while we're stuck in the middle of the jam with the fans.

Today we had a later start than usual but as we had a two-and-a-half hour drive to the start we were still up at 7.0 anyway. Then we had to sit on the team bus and watch the Tour publicity caravan go by for 40 minutes before we were allowed move. Crazy.

It was another hectic day in the peloton with plenty of crashes. Although thankfully I missed them all, some of them only by inches, I saw quite a few.

British champion Bradley Wiggins crashed when some Lampre guy got his rain jacket caught in his back wheel and caused a spill. Wiggo fell just in front of me but I got around him and then had team-mates Sebastien Minard and Blel Kadri to take me back to the bunch.

We rode full gas to get back to the peloton and just as we were about to make contact, we came into a small town. There was a sharp left turn and as we rounded it, Andreas Kloden and Alberto Contador were picking themselves up off the ground on the right-hand side of the road.

Riding past the melee, we made our way back through the bunch and into a position of safety near the front. Then about 3km later there was another big smash involving Janez Brajkovic from Radioshack. I didn't find out until later that Brajkovic, one of the pre-race favourites, was carted off to hospital in an ambulance and had to quit the Tour.

A few kilometres later I heard another smash over to my right. What happened next was unbelievable. One of the camera motorbikes drove up the outside of the bunch with somebody's bike stuck to the back of it. I just looked over and thought to myself, 'What the f**k is going on?'

The guy on the motorbike had tried to pass the riders on the right-hand side but in his haste had hooked Nicki Sorensen's bike with his pannier. The Danish champion did a quick impression of a rodeo rider being dragged on his back by a bull before finally being tossed into the middle of a family picnic on the grass verge.

Although he was relatively unscathed, Sorensen had no bike as it was still attached to the back of the motorbike. As we rode along, everybody was shouting at the guy on the motorbike who, unaware of the carnage behind, had continued driving along in the middle of the peloton with a smile on him like he was king of the road.

Meanwhile, Sorensen's bike was scraping off the road behind him and was in danger of coming loose and bringing down more riders.

The driver eventually copped on and stopped while Sorensen got a new bike from his Saxo Bank team car back down the road and made his way back to the peloton with a good story 9km later.

There were too many crashes today. I rode pretty near the front for most of the day with both Sebastiens -- Hinault and Minard; the rest of the team had troubles of their own.

John Gadret broke the hub in his rear wheel. It happened to me last year and I thought I was just having a really bad day until I changed bikes and realised the wheel had been grinding all day. But it was the first time for John so he didn't know what was going on. He thought the frame was broken and wanted to change his bike. Christophe Riblon was at the back, trying to help John but everybody was panicking.

Up the front, we could hear them in our earpieces, "Hang in there, there's a group just up the road." Then "Keep going, another group just ahead."

Apparently, the back of the bunch was mayhem with loads of splits after the crashes. Christophe had a hard day at the back of the peloton. He was getting back on after a crash when Jean-Christophe Peraud stopped for a pee. Then John had his wheel problem so he went back for John. Sebastien stopped, so Christophe went back with him. Then John had another problem so Christophe stopped with John again -- he spent the whole day bringing guys back up. He was no good to me today, but at least he was doing his job.

For the first time on this Tour, I thought some of the guys didn't pull their weight today and had a bit of a row with Max after the stage. It's hard to say something to him because we're good friends and have known each other for years. So when I told him 'Hey Max, today you were useless' it might not have been the best approach.

I told him I never saw him all day. Max said that he'd been on the front but I told him that was no good if he was on the left and I was on the right. He justified himself by saying he was working for Peraud but I still wasn't happy.

The worst thing is to go to the directeur sportif and say 'He's not doing this or that'. I'm big enough and bold enough to be able to tell somebody myself if I think they're not doing their job properly so I said it to him when we were alone on the bus.

Max was a bit upset and, in fairness, I probably would be too. He didn't come up to me the day before and say 'Hey Roche you were useless today. You're supposed to be going for a top 10 and you get dropped on the first climb'.

I only saw Blel a couple of times with bottles today but I was hoping he'd stay a bit nearer the front too. When I look at it now, both Max and Blel were in long breakaways the two previous days so they are probably tired. In fairness, the team have been great all week, so maybe I'm just being grumpy.

I finished safely in the bunch and moved up to 24th overall but I was so out of breath after the stage that I rode past the bus and needed a few minutes to cool down. Today was a day where I was hoping I wouldn't crash or lose time, so I was happy enough with it.

I'm writing this on the bus. There is only one road out of the car park and it's complete chaos again. The gendarmes are giving the VIPS priority over us. We're here 45 minutes and we haven't budged an inch. The VIP cars are barging their way out while we have to sit here and wait.

Nobody thinks about the riders after the race, that we need to shower, eat, get a massage and sleep. We're just the show and when the show is over, we're nothing again.

Tour de France,

Live, Eurosport 12.45/ TG4 1.10

Irish Independent

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