Pro cyclist interview: Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) talks to RCUK

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Nicolas Roche to ride two Grand Tours, Milan-San Remo and Ardennes Classics in 2014

Irishman excited by race programme that will take him to Dublin

Ireland’s Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) will ride two Grand Tours next season, including the Giro d’Italia, which will roll out from Belfast on Friday May 9.

Roche, who this season rode an impressive Vuelta a Espana, a month after supporting Alberto Contador at the Tour de France, said that in recent years he had ridden more strongly in the second race when he had contested two of cycling’s trio of three-week races in a single season.

And the 29-year-old revealed the first half of his 2014 programme, which will include Tirenno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo, and the three Ardennes Classics, before the Giro and the Tour.

Nicolas Roche told RCUK he is excited about a race programme that next year will include two Grand Tours, Milan-San Remo and all three Ardennes Classics (Pic: Roz Jones)

“I’m pretty excited,” Roche told RoadCyclingUK. “It’s a whole new race programme. Doing the Giro meant that I had to re-modulate all my usual races. I’m really excited to go and give a shot at San Remo, for instance. It’s the sort of race that I always watch on TV and that I’ve been a few times to the finish just for the love of it, so I’m really excited about riding San Remo.

“I’ll be doing Tirreno-Adriatico, and prior to that Strade Bianchi, and the Classics – Amstel, Fleche, Liege – and then the Giro. That’s the first big block, then probably the national championships and then the Tour. Nothing has been decided for the second part yet. It all depends on how the Tour goes.”

When they said, ‘Yes, Nico – you want to do the Giro and we understand it will be nice for you and for the team to have you there’, I was really happy because I knew a lot of the fans back home were hoping I was going to do it

The 2014 Giro d’Italia begins in Belfast on Friday May 9, the unusual start day included as a concession to the teams, who have insisted on a rest day before racing recommences in Italy on Tuesday May 13.

Proceedings will begin with a team time trial. Stage two will take the riders on a 218km circular route that starts and finishes in the Northern Irish capital and past the island’s famous coastal landmarks, including the Giant’s Causeway. On Sunday May 11, the third stage – a 187km route from Armagh – will finish in Dublin, the home town of Roche’s father, Stephen.

Roche lost seven minutes on stage 14 of the Vuelta a Espana but showed tremendous character to fight his way back to fifth overall by the time the race reached Madrid (Pic: Roz Jones)

Roche said his role in a team geared to contesting victory at the Tour de France for Alberto Contador had meant his selection for the Giro had not been a certainty, which had led him to attempt to defuse anticipation among Irish fans.

“Obviously when I put my hand up for the Giro there was a risk that I would be tired for the Tour. Over the last few years, I’ve always been able to do two Grand Tours and it seems to be that I manage the second one better, so when they told me I think it was something they took into consideration.

My role in the Tour helped me to be in the best condition for the Vuelta. Obviously, when you’re fighting for GC, it’s way more demanding than helping the GC guys. I think it all came together

“When they said, ‘Yes, Nico – you want to do the Giro and we understand it will be nice for you and for the team to have you there’, I was really happy because I knew a lot of the fans back home were hoping I was going to do it, and for a long time I was trying to keep a low profile on it and say, ‘We’ll have to wait and see and be patient’. Once they said yes, I was really looking forward to sharing it.”

The Irishman’s performance at this season’s Vuelta a Espana was one of the highlights of the Spanish national tour. Roche rode aggressively throughout, winning stage two and wearing each of the jerseys, including the red tunic of race leader, and showing character to ride himself back into the top five after losing seven minutes on the gruelling fourteenth stage from Baga to Collada de la Gallina.

Roche said he has been stronger in the second race when he has ridden two Grand Tours in a single season (Pic: Roz Jones)

“I’d announced, ‘I will be a great team-mate in the Tour and I will be there in the Vuelta’, but it’s easier said than done,” Roche laughed. The Irishman modestly described his 2013 campaign as one with “ups and downs” and said a strong performance at the end of the season had coloured people’s perception. “If the Vuelta was in January, maybe they’d say, ‘You went good in January and then you had a quiet season.’

“I was so eager to perform and get my position in the team that I got a bit over excited and carried away. I was flying in February, and then had a really hard time in April, and it took me a fair bit of time to get back into shape. When you dig deep, it’s not that easy to get back up.

“My role in the Tour helped me to be in the best condition for the Vuelta. Obviously, when you’re fighting for GC, it’s way more demanding than helping the GC guys. I think it all came together.”

Over the last few years, I’ve always been able to do two Grand Tours and it seems to be that I manage the second one better

Roche will ride in the colours of the new Tinkoff-Saxo team in 2014, following the sale of Riis Cycling to Russian financier Oleg Tinkoff. The team line-up will remain largely unchanged, with Contador as leader for the biggest race of the season, and Roman Kreuziger likely to serve as the Spaniard’s super-domestique in France.

Asked if Tinkoff-Saxo could unseat Team Sky and Chris Froome as Tour de France champions next year, Roche said that each year at cycling’s biggest race was different.

A change of team ownership will not change Roche’s role in the 2014 Tour de France – to ride for multiple Grand Tour winner Alberto Contador (Pic: Roz Jones)

“Last year we were pretty strong tactically. Roman did a fabulous Tour [to finish fifth behind Contador]. The team rode together and we had a fantastic team spirit: I think that was our main strength. Unfortunately for us, Froome imposed his domination, and we were not as good in the mountains.

“I think Alberto is really eager to come back and prove next year is the right year,” he added. “I’m pretty sure next year he’s going to be ready and hopefully make it exciting. I’d love to defend yellow.”

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Pictures by Roz Jones. Used with kind permission of On The Road Cycling Tours

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