Nicolas Roche Interview: One step back to take two steps forward
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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Nicolas Roche Interview: One step back to take two steps forward

by Shane Stokes at 5:45 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
 
Irishman gives up Tour leadership role in order to learn from Contador at Team Saxo Tinkoff

Nicolas RocheAfter several years as team leader, Nicolas Roche will have a very different approach to his racing in 2013 and 2014. The Irishman is one of several high-profile signings for Team Saxo - Tinkoff, joining the likes of Roman Kreuziger and Matti Breschel in moving to Bjarne Riis’ Team Saxo – Tinkoff. All three have achieved considerable success in the past but in now being part of a squad with Alberto Contador, personal ambitions will have to be put aside in key events in order to help the Spaniard try to win the Tour de France and other races.

The team is heading towards Monday’s finale of a two-week training camp in Gran Canaria and in that time, Roche has got to know those he will be riding alongside, as well as the officials who will direct and assist him. It’s a time to create bonds that will prove invaluable in the months ahead, a period to settle in, build things up and figure schedules and strategy out.

Roche is impressed with things thus far, and also said that he’s seen a different side to Contador than before.

“The camp has been very good,” he told VeloNation this week. “It’s been much bigger than team camps I’ve been too in the past, both in terms of the amount of people here and also the range of things that we have been doing. It’s been fun.

“I’ve got to know the riders better, although I did know quite a few before from racing. The other day I spent time with Contador, Kreuziger and Chris Sorensen. The four of us were together from eight in the morning until seven that night. We had a good day and were really able to talk.

“I was quite surprised because when we race, Contador is not one of those guys who says much. I always said he was very discrete, saying thank you when you let him by and everything, but otherwise being pretty quiet. But in the car he was really, really talkative. He was talking about race situations, and other things. The four of us had a nice chat.

“Then yesterday Roman, myself and him went to the children’s hospital in Las Palmas to visit the kids who are being treated for cancer. Alberto spoke for five to ten minutes with each of the kids. They were all over the moon.”

Roche has ridden well in Grand Tours in the past, netting fourteenth in the 2010 Tour, seventh in that year’s Vuelta, and then placing eleventh in both races this year. He’s also won a stage of the Tour of Beijing and taken several big runner-up slots, including second on stages of the Tour and the Vuelta.

Essentially, he’s been banging on the door for several seasons. He was for the past four seasons one of Ag2r La Mondiale’s big leaders but, paradoxically, has now decided that his best chance of improving as a rider is to take a step back from that top role and instead serve under another competitor.

He’s clear on how that will affect his racing, but also on what he hopes to gain long-term. “Every year at the Tour I would go to the biggest race of the year and do my own thing there. If it worked it worked, if it didn’t work, it didn’t work, but at least I was able to ride the way I like to ride,” said the 28 year old. “However this is going to be a different now. Obviously Contador is the main man of the team and it will be a new experience for me now to ride and help him try and win the Tour.

“Right now, it’s time to just sit back a bit and forget about the Tour leadership. I can go and learn, practice my time-trial, get some new experiences, gain experience with someone who is riding to win the Tour and then in three or four years, when I feel that I’m capable of going for it again myself, then give it another shot.”

In the interview below Roche speaks about these and other issues, discussing what has been happening at the camp, his impressions of the other riders, the current situation with his form, his schedule going forward, bike and position changes plus his thoughts on Team Saxo Bank’s nervous wait for a WorldTour ProTeam licence.


VeloNation: How are things going so far?

Nicolas Roche: Good, yes…it has been very busy in terms of everything - bike stuff, training and more. Last week we were only out on the bike two or three times to try out stuff. We were just making sure the bikes were okay. We did three whole days of team-building, leaving at eight o’clock in the morning and getting back to the hotel around six…so being gone for the day.

The first day we had beach activities, five a side soccer, volleyball, jetski, swimming contests, handicap races and things like that. All pretty physical, apart from the jetski – that was fun!

Then the second time around we went out on sailing boats...same idea, teams of five and six. That was good, we had a sailing race. Obviously we had a skipper with us to make sure everything was under control, but he was giving us all the responsibility, so that was fun.

Unfortunately there wasn’t a very strong wind, so we had time to focus on technical stuff. It was a very, very technical race rather than a physical race. It was more about when to put our weight on a certain side at the right time, rather than really working hard.

It was funny – it was the only day of the week where there has been no wind. It has otherwise been really windy the whole two weeks. But it was fun anyway – it was a good experience.

In all we were out for about eight hours in the boat, it was a long day. Then on the last day of team-building, we were in groups of four for a bit of an orientation race. Each team left the hotel and met at a precise point. We did all this hanging off cliffs, climbing up rocks, archery, gunshooting, walking into these tunnels to get rid of the fear of tight spaces…it was good day, good fun. We got to know the lads better.

Then in the past week we have been doing three hours on the bike in the morning. Taking it easy, but getting in the kilometres.

Also, we have been doing bike fitting with Specialized to make sure the position is right, then we had meetings with the different sponsors who talk about their products and what they do. Yesterday, for example, we had a conference with Sportful where they explained what jerseys we have and what to wear when, all these types of things.

VN: You turned pro in 2005 with Cofidis, raced with Crédit Agricole from 2007 to 2008 and have been with Ag2r la Mondiale since then. Moving to a Danish team is a big change in that regard. What are your thoughts on that?

Nicolas RocheNR: I’m happy, it’s a new beginning. After eight years now in French teams, I am curious. You always hear in the peloton saying ‘you have to go away from the French teams, everybody rides for themselves, too many individualities. You have to go to a bigger structure and learn with a big team and a big team spirit,’ so that was one of the main things.

Over the years I’ve always been told that sooner or later it would be good if I try one of the big foreign teams. This year was the time to do it. I’m 28 so I have a lot to learn. I think you can get a lot from the experienced riders and staff in Saxobank.

VN: Were there a few options, in terms of offers?

NR: There were a few choices but this one was my main preference. When I put down the things that I liked and I didn’t like in various teams, I realised that Saxo was the one where I could fit in best.

VN: Obviously with Contador there the Tour de France won’t be a personal goal any more, at least not straight away. How do you feel about that?

NR: That’s true. That was a great thing about my other teams - every year at the Tour I would go to the biggest race of the year and do my own thing there. If it worked it worked, if it didn’t work, it didn’t work, but at least I was able to ride the way I like to ride. However this is going to be a different now. Obviously Contador is the main man of the team and it will be a new experience for me now to ride and help him try and win the Tour.

It’s just going to be a very different experience. But I’m hoping I’ll be able to do my own thing in some other races.

VN: Longer term, do you still have ambitions to go back to the Tour as a GC rider, maybe in three or four years?

NR: Yeah, I think that’s one of my long term goals… Right now, it’s time to just sit back a bit and forget about the Tour leadership. I can go and learn, practice my time-trial, get some new experiences, gain experience with someone who is riding to win the Tour and then in three or four years, when I feel that I’m capable of going for it again myself, then give it another shot.

VN: What is your impression of the team thus far, going by the training camp?

NR: Well, this type of thing did not really exist at Ag2r. They actually created something in the alps around a four day weekend this year, and had something like that last year. But it was very different to what is happening here.

Last week there were about 80 people here at the training camp. We had every single person who is employed by Saxo – Tinkoff here. It was good – you meet the secretary, the girl who you talk to all year long to book the airplanes…at last year put a face to the name and it just breaks the ice, rather than just sending emails to a person you don’t know. So that was good as well.

It is definitely a bigger setup than Ag2r – much more staff.

VN: What is your impression of the other riders?

NR: It has been good, I have been fully integrated after a week, I already feel like part of the team. It breaks the ice. But it was easier for me as I knew many of the riders here before, and I also know many of the other new guys. Oliver Zaugg, Kreuziger, Bennati, Matti Breshel – who I have been racing with since the juniors.

I knew most of the new guys, such as Rory Sutherland and Cantwell, who I have trained with a few times. I also knew Chris Sorensen, who I have been racing with since we were juniors. In addition to that, some of the staff were with Crédit Agricole when I was there…so I know them as well.

VN: How is your form?

NR: I am happy now. I have been very good with my weight this winter. I think it was a good thing for me to finish the season early, then roll along for the last few days of September rather than to just stopping early and not doing anything.

I started pedalling nice and easy, but with no stress. My weight is good, better than last year. This time last year I was only starting the bike, while now I have done two weeks. Okay, I haven’t done much – just two and half to three hour rides, but at least the legs are turning. I am happy enough with how things are at the moment.

VN: Obviously Alberto Contador is the biggest name on the team. Have you spoken to him much?

NR: Yes…the other day we spent the whole day together. There were four of us – myself, Contador, Kreuziger and Chris Sorensen. The four of us were together from eight in the morning until seven that night. We had a good day and were really able to talk.

I was quite surprised because when we race, Contador is not one of those guys who says much. I always said he was very discrete, saying thank you when you let him by and everything, but otherwise being pretty quiet. But in the car he was really, really talkative. He was talking about race situations, and other things. The four of us had a nice chat.

Then yesterday Roman, myself and him went to the children’s hospital in Las Palmas to visit the kids who are being treated for cancer. That was a tough moment – I haven’t been in one of those hospitals since my little brother Florian was ill.

It was nice, though, in that the families really appreciated it. Myself and Roman have very poor Spanish – we are working on it and we were able to communicate with the families and with the kids who weren’t shy enough to talk, but Alberto spoke for five to ten minutes with each of the kids. They were all over the moon.

VN: How is your brother Florian now?

NR: Florian is much better [he had leukaemia in the past – ed.]. With that thing, you never say cheers [take anything for granted], but he is good. His blood results are good and he has no issues. He has a bit of osteoporosis due to injections they were giving him due to the chemo, but it is nothing serious. It is better than being dead…

VN: Do you have any idea yet of your schedule, what races you will do?

NR: I have the beginning of the year. I will be starting with the Tour of the Med, Haut Var, then working my way towards Paris-Nice, Pays Basques and then the Classics. So it is a pretty similar programme to what I did in other years…apart from Med and Haut Var, which I haven’t done for years. I was always in Algarve or Italy.

Nicolas RocheVN: When you are in the races with Alberto, you will presumably be working for him. But have you spoken to Bjarne or anybody else on the team in relation to what your opportunities will be next year, and where you will be able to lead the team?

NR: No, not yet. We talked about the race programme but that was a mutual talk with everyone. So I didn’t have a proper talk with him. But we will definitely be going to some races to try to win for Alberto, and in other races I will have a chance.

VN: Do you hope to do the Giro, for example?

NR: No, I am hoping for the Tour, then we will see about the Vuelta.

VN: So perhaps you might get to ride for GC in the Vuelta?

NR: Hopefully…that is what I would like, but I don’t want to talk about that now, you never know. It is really early in the season. I will stick with my beginning of the year and take it from there. But I do know that when Alberto is there at races, I will be 100 percent for him.

VN: When will the next training camp be?

NR: It will be January…in December, myself and Kreuziger will be going to Italy to do some tests on the track with the trainer. We will spend a couple of days there to test our positions and do a bit of work on time trialling. That is really good for me, I am really excited about going and doing the specific work to try to learn things.

VN: It is still up in the air about the WorldTour licence. What are your thoughts on it?

NR: Strangely enough, it hasn’t really been talked about this week. I think everybody secretly hopes that we can do it, that we can be part of the thing. But it hasn’t been a big discussion.

At this stage, the discussion is what is the plan this afternoon, are we going to play soccer or squash or whatever…we are more focussed on that.

It is a very, very laid back training camp, more laid back than I thought. I thought they’d be already hard core, but it is actually pretty laid back and chilled out. It is a nice way to get everybody together. It is easier to break the ice like that when there’s no stress at all.

VN: When does it finish?

NR: On Monday. So it’s two whole weeks…a long training camp.

It is definitely good work…we have been pedalling this week, I have been through the bike fit today and just making sure everything was alright. We’ve been doing a fair bit of work to get ready.

VN: Did they change much for you in the bike fit?

NR: No, not at all. I had anticipated a few things already when I arrived here last week when I tried the bike. With the mechanic, we agreed that it was better to put a longer stem and to change my handlebar size…to go back to a smaller handlebar size because I have wide shoulders. He thought with wide handlebars, it didn’t help having wide shoulders.

So by putting a size less, it forces me to put my shoulders in. We tried that and then today when I did the BG Fit tests, it worked out to be pretty efficient and the position was right. So I’m pretty happy.

VN: Finally, how are the bikes? You will be on Specialized next year…

NR: The bikes are exceptional, and I’m only using training wheels. So I can’t wait to put on the best wheels and really try everything out together.


 

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