Though he was barely able to talk at the summit of the Col du Tourmalet, Nicolas Roche (Ag2r) managed to communicate, between coughing fits, that he was “happy enough” with his ride at the Tour de France.
The Irishman placed 12th on the stage to move up to 15th overall, which leaves him on course for the target he set himself prior to the start of the Tour of placing in the top 15.
“It was really, really fast from the valley,” said Roche. “And it’s such a hard climb, and I’m just so breathless now. My chest’s burning with the cold air.
“I’ve been on the limit, giving the maximum everyday,” he added. “But this was amazing today. It’s a monument in cycling this climb, and the weather’s made it epic. It was a race for a lot of things, the last big opportunity for climbers to move up the general classification, and a race for the stage and the yellow jersey.”
Roche finished two places ahead of his teammate, John Gadret, the rider with whom he had a spectacular falling out after Monday’s stage to Bagnères-de-Luchon when the Frenchman failed to follow team orders by neglecting to assist his leader when he punctured. They are closely bunched on general classification, too, with Gadret two places behind Roche in 17th.
Not that Roche was thinking about Gadret at the summit of the Tourmalet. “I’m happy today,” said Roche. “It was a hard day, but I climbed well.
“I wanted a strong and focused ride up it, and I’m satisfied enough with how it went. There were a lot of big names dropped. I thought about the climb yesterday. I thought that I couldn’t think about the general classification placing, I just had to do the best ride I can do. So I’m happy enough.”
Roche also paid tribute to the two riders who dominated the stage, who are set to finish first and second on general classification: Alberto Contador (Astana) and Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank).
“Contador and Schleck are two amazing riders,” he said. “I’ve known Andy since we were young riders, and he’s got better and more mature every year. I remember the Giro in 2007, when it was my first Grand Tour, and he was flying.
“Now he’s fighting for the Tour de France with Contador - it’s been an amazing race, and it’s a dramatic and exciting finale. I hope it’s an attractive race for everyone watching.”
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Richard Moore is a freelance journalist and author. His first book, In Search of Robert Millar (HarperSport), won Best Biography at the 2008 British Sports Book Awards. His second book, Heroes, Villains & Velodromes (HarperSport), was long-listed for the 2008 William Hill Sports Book of the Year.
He writes on sport, specialising in cycling, and is a regular contributor to Cyclingnews, the Guardian, skyports.com, the Scotsman and Procycling magazine.
He is also a former racing cyclist who represented Scotland at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and Great Britain at the 1998 Tour de Langkawi
His next book, Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France, will be published by Yellow Jersey in May 2011.
Another book, Sky’s the Limit: British Cycling’s Quest to Conquer the Tour de France, will also be published by HarperSport in June 2011.