Roche rues moving day woes

NICOLAS ROCHE’S goal of a top-10 finish in this year’s Tour de France is over after a nightmare day on Saturday when he conceded almost seven minutes to his main rivals and dropped back from 11th to 18th on the overall classification.

The term ‘moving day’ is one derived from golf and describes the often decisive Saturday of a tournament which sees a seismic shift in the leaderboard — and the 14th stage of this year’s Tour had been billed as that day since the route was announced back in October of last year.

All the general classification contenders came to the fore — and sadly, Roche wasn’t amongst them as he was dropped on the final climb of the Plateau de Beille in the Pyrenees, unable to keep pace with some of the more established Grand Tour riders.

The Ag2R La Mondiale rider apologised to his fans via his twitter account in the aftermath, saying “A nightmare! Sorry to all my fans! Had a terrible day.”

However, he remained upbeat and enthused that being out of the running for a top-10 placing would permit him to go on the offensive for the remaining days until the race reaches its climax next Sunday in Paris.

He said, “Had lots of support today from crowds! Irish fans! And teammates! Will keep fighting! Go in the attacks from now on! Thanks everyone.”

The stage was won by Belgian Jelle Vanendert, who claimed his first professional win, and what a win it was too.

The rail-thin Omega Pharma-Lotto climber looked in trouble at the base of the climb as the Leopard-Trek team set a blistering tempo at the front, shelling riders out the back in their droves.

With the Schlecks, Andy and Franck, driving it, and German super domestique Jens Voigt also doing an amount of work, the front group was whittled down to less than 10 riders with 15 kilometres to go, with Roche one of the later casualties despite his teammates waiting to pace him back on a few occasions.

Vanendert had enough of waiting in the front group and took off alone as the leaders, and in particular, Cadel Evans (BMC), Ivan Basso (Liquigas) and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank SunGard) all marked each other move for move. He passed Sandy Casar (FDJ), who was the sole survivor of the day’s 24-man break, and churned his way to the finish, 21 seconds ahead of next placed Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).

Roche did have some consolation to the weekend when he finished 20th on yesterday’s flat 187km run from Limoux to Montpellier, coming home safely in the peloton in the same time as stage winner Mark Cavendish (HTC Highroad).

It was the Manx rider’s fourth stage win in this year’s race and, more importantly, strengthened his grip on the green jersey.

Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) finished safely in the peloton also and kept the race leader’s yellow jersey for another day.

The racing resumes tomorrow with the 164km 16th stage from Saint-Paul-Trois Chateaux to Gap in the Alps, but not before today’s second rest day.

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