Nicolas Roche conceded that after a good night’s sleep and some reflection he is more forgiving of himself for cracking inside the last kilometre of Sunday’s stage nine team time trial of the Tour de France that his Sky team lost to BMC by 0.6 of a second.
But the Irish rider has not totally admonished himself, even though Sky’s Dave Brailsford and his Australian teammate Richie Porte quickly came to his defence and praised him for his ride throughout the 28km stage.
“To be so close to a stage win in the Tour, it would be wrong not to be disappointed,” Roche, 31, said on Monday’s rest day at the team hotel in Pau near the Pyrenees.
“I think it was only fair. You know, it was 500m to the line. We were all in there. G [Geraint Thomas] squeezed a little bit in that last kilometre. We were in for the win and there is a fine line. And I was just behind that line. But I think it is also normal that I am disappointed because it’s a massive effort.
“The whole team was looking forward to this race … and it’s such a special and particular event, the team time trial. I would have loved to have been on the podium with the guys. It didn’t happen because a couple of hundred metres.”
What if Roche had not of been the fifth Sky rider …
However, Roche then deservedly granted himself a kinder reflection on his ride. And so he should have, considering that had he not been the fifth rider off whom the team’s time is taken, Sky would have lost more time to the winners, BMC.
Even worse, their team leader, Briton Chris Froome could have lost his yellow jersey to the American Tejay van Garderen (BMC) who is second overall at 12 seconds to Froome.
“This morning … if you look at the big picture, Chris [Froome] is still in yellow which was the main goal yesterday,” Roche said.
“Realistically, 0.6 of a second over 28km is not a dramatically bad TTT. So after a good night’s sleep it is much better this morning.”
At that point in the press conference Brailsford said: “I think he should be proud of himself. To be fair to Nicholas it is a team effort and the last couple of times we have been out on the road doing team time trials, I think we would all agree that we haven’t been at our best … it didn’t quite work and we have spent a lot of time thinking about team time trialling, to improve our team time trialling.”
Brailsford then pointed out that Roche had done a lot of unseen work for the team early in the stage: “Everybody saw the last kilometre, but we didn’t see the 27km before that when Nicholas did a tremendous job,” Brailsford said. “We wouldn’t have been there had he not did what he did. He should feel very proud of himself.”
Above and beyond what was expected …
Later, Richie Porte confirmed Brailsford’s assessment of Roche’s contribution earlier in the stage, and long before most saw him struggling near the end, telling Cyclingnews: “Nico wasn’t expected to get to the last climb. He did over what he was meant to do. There were two standout riders [in the team] - Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome.
“That last climb really hurt for the rest of us. Nico did a fantastic job just to be there.”
Porte believes Roche’s ride in the team time trial augurs well for what he may be able to offer in the mountains.
“For Nico his role is more the medium mountains, but as it stands I think [after] yesterday we are going to see him a lot higher up in the climbs,” said Porte.
Porte said Roche also provides invaluable experience from having raced 13 grand tours before this year’s Tour de France and especially his knowledge of French roads.
This is Roche’s seventh Tour, but with his six previous starts he has also competed in the Giro d’Italia twice and the Vuelta a Espana five times.
“He is the brain. In our team, he is the voice of reason,” Porte said.
“He has done the most grand tours of any of us. This is his seventh Tour de France. Obviously, he is a pretty experienced fella. There is no a road that we do that Nico doesn’t know. He is Irish, but he is also very, very French as well.”
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer for The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)