Thursday 14 December 2017

Nicolas Roche:'Only good thing about the fall was the cut was clean

Nicolas Roche

As usual, today's opening stage was littered with crashes. I don't know why it happens, but every year is the same and if you don't fall or get held up by someone else falling in the first week of the Tour, then you should offer your services as a route planner in a minefield.

There were so many crashes today, I didn't see a third of them until I watched the highlights on TV afterwards. Eager to get his altercation with the road out of the way early, German sprinter Andre Greipel was on his arse in the middle of the peloton before we even hit the official start line. It wasn't even 40km into the race when I fell, hitting the deck for a record fifth time this year.

As the guys ahead of me slammed on the brakes and ploughed into each other, I wasn't unduly worried as I saw it coming and had time to stop without doing any damage. But then some guy from Katusha, who was obviously looking elsewhere, just smashed me in the back.

I fell on my chainring and it dug into my shin, so I have another open wound on my leg to add to the collection of cuts and abrasions from my crash at the Criterium du Dauphine three weeks ago.

The only good thing about today's fall was, because the teeth of the chainring are sharp, at least the cut is clean. Although it was very sore at the time, it didn't bleed much and a bandage should sort it out. As the race went on I forgot about my leg but noticed my wrist was getting a bit sore.

When I picked myself up, I was a bit worried about my gears and, having been hit from behind, didn't know if my rear wheel was buckled. John Gadret was at the very back of the bunch and when he saw me fall, actually turned around on the road and came back to see how I was.

As I re-mounted and made my way back to the peloton, I also had Sebastien Minard, Christophe Riblon and Hubert Dupont wait on me to pace me back up.

Upon making contact with the back of the peloton, I was all set to grab a couple of quiet minutes to feel sorry for myself and catch my breath again when Seb let fly at me. "You can't just stay here Nico. We have to get to the front. Follow me." With that, he made his way up the left-hand side of the peloton with me in his slipstream.

Being at the front, however, doesn't mean you're immune to crashes, as Jurgen van de Walle found out later on. Riding in second place in the line, the Belgian was waving his hand in the air to warn those behind him of an upcoming traffic island when he hit a speed bump and was thrown to the ground, bringing down a half-dozen riders in his wake.

After a bit of a chase and with his jersey in tatters, Van de Walle returned to the front of the bunch in an effort to keep things together for his team leader Philippe Gilbert, who was favourite to take the stage on the short uphill finish.

It's only the first day of the Tour but already our whole team have either crashed or lost time because they got caught up in a crash. As we started the little climb to the finish, only sprinter Seb Hinault was left with me in the front group, which had been whittled down to around 70 riders by the incessant carnage.

With nine roundabouts in the last six kilometres, the finale was hectic. With two kilometres to go, Seb disappeared in another pile-up and I was left alone in the front group.

I didn't even notice until French champion Sylvain Chavanel came up alongside me and asked me where everybody had gone. I looked around and there were only about 25 of us left.

The climb to the finish was pretty hard and I was just hanging on, trying to stay in contact with the leaders. Gilbert repaid Van de Walle and the rest of his Omega Pharma Lotto team's faith in him and proved he is the best in the world at these type of finishes to win the stage pretty comfortably.

I crossed the line six seconds later for 19th after my biggest effort since my crash three weeks ago.

Today's finishing climb was the type I really love but I'm still not at 100pc so I'm pretty satisfied to have stayed with the top guys and not lose time. The big pity about today was that the rest of the guys lost a fair bit of time on the stage due to bad luck.

One of the goals for the team was to get top-three in the team classification in Paris, but losing 20 minutes or more on a stage where we should have only lost a handful of seconds is obviously a big hit and we will probably lose more in the team time trial. Hopefully the guys will not be too sore tomorrow and can keep me up there with a good time.

The thing I'm a bit angry about today is that, after yesterday's stage, they put all of the guys involved in the second crash on the same time as me. I finished the stage completely knackered to try and put time into some of those guys. Okay, there was a crash with a kilometre to go but there were only a handful of guys down, not 70.

In the first group, we'd all fought for time all the way to the line, only for the guys who lost 20 or 30 seconds behind us to be given the same time as us. I was bit p***ed off about that as I could have done with the extra 10 or 15 seconds' cushion for the team time trial today.

This morning, our team must have looked like extras for 'The Mummy Returns' as we mounted our bikes for an hour and a half training spin before our afternoon start.

Sebastian Hinault began today's stage with three stitches in his calf. I have a new bandage on my shin to go with the one on my elbow from the Dauphine crash.


Sebastien Minard has a bandage on his right knee and one on his calf. Maxime Bouet has cuts on his left thigh and knee. Jean-Christophe Peraud has bandages on both legs and Hubert Dupont has a few scrapes too.

Even so, the team did a great job in the team time trial. I went a bit too hard on the early part of the stage and suffered a bit on the last drag with two kilometres to go, but then Christophe and Jean-Christophe took over and were really strong. John Gadret was struggling a bit in the tailwind section but rode really hard in the headwind and did the last kilometre flat out.

We had said this morning that 10th or 12th on the stage, losing no more than a minute, would be good for us. We finished 13th on the stage and lost 53 seconds behind the winners, Garmin Cervelo, so we were pretty much on target. Everybody is pretty satisfied with today's performance. We rode a good time trial but the others were quicker, simple as that.

As today is my 27th birthday, the team will have a celebratory glass of champagne at the dinner table tonight and a slice of cake. There are only two times we are allowed to have champagne on the Tour; either when you win a stage, or when you celebrate a birthday.

For the moment, I'll have to go with the easy option.

Tour de France,

Live, TG4, 1.10/ITV4, 2.0/Eurospt, 12.45

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