Nicolas Roche feature: Improved confidence with Team Saxo Tinkoff
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Saturday, February 09, 2013

Nicolas Roche feature: Improved confidence with Team Saxo Tinkoff

by Shane Stokes at 8:14 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
 
Irishman pleased with solid TT in Tour of the Mediterranean, aiming for top three finish overall

Nicolas RocheNicolas Roche is today targeting a strong performance on the crucial Mont Faron stage of the Tour of the Mediterranean, knowing that climbing well on the tough climb above Toulon could set him up for a top three overall finish in the race.

The Irish professional is riding his first event with Team Saxo Tinkoff and had a strong performance two days ago in the time trial. He was eighth on the stage and starts today’s decisive penultimate leg eighth overall.

“Looking at the results now, if I could pull up a podium, that would be good,” he told VeloNation. “Obviously a win would be something spectacular because I haven’t won a stage race yet, but there is a big gap to go and get Maxime Monfort, who is thirty seconds ahead. He is a good friend of mine, I know him very well, and I know he will be a hard man to go and get.

“I would be disappointed if I don’t make the podium. That is the big goal now for the rest of the week.”

Roche has traditionally lost time in races against the clock but has made improving his time trials one of the big goals of this next phase of his career. He said that factor was one consideration in moving to Team Saxo Tinkoff, with the 28 year old reasoning that the technical setup at the Danish team could help him find improvements.

Netting eighth on the stage two time trial behind the winner Lars Boom (Blanco Pro Cycling) was a big encouragement, and also limiting his losses to 54 seconds.

“It is definitely one of the best TTs I have done, for sure. Not the best one, but it would be the second or third best. Even if the Tour of the Med is not Paris-Nice, I am happy,” he said. “I focussed on a set speed and power and heart rate and I stuck to it. I decided I would try to maintain that, to fight to keep that all the way to the finish. I said to myself that I’d then give whatever was left in the tank to go up the climb. It worked and I am pretty happy with that.

“I have definitely been doing a lot more work on the time trial this winter than the other years. It was a big focus. Also, I was in the wind tunnel again back in December and my position was modified a bit as a result. I am pretty happy with the outcome.”

However Roche is clear that the result is not simply due to the TT-specific work he has done and a tweaked position. “I’m also in good condition as well for this time of the year,” he said, sounding satisfied. “I am definitely ahead of the last two years, I think I am close enough to what I was in 2010. One factor has been staying clear of injury and illness – I think over the three previous years, I injured myself every winter. So that hasn’t been an issue.”

Being lean at this time of the year is also something which is working to his advantage this time round. “I am like I was in 2010,” he said, again referring back to the season which saw him finish third in the GP dell’Insubria early on, then go on to net tenth overall in Paris-Nice and fifth in the Volta a Catalunya. “Last year I was struggling with my weight early on. I am a bit lighter than the other years, which is always my battle in the winter. I am never fat, but just that extra kilo at the start of the year handicaps me a lot.

“I don’t have that extra kilo this year. I am obviously not at Tour weight, but I am at a good weight. I am happy with where I am at.”

Today’s stage will almost certainly settle the final overall classification and he knows that if he can turn that decent form into a good uphill performance, that a big GC performance is possible. “I don’t want to get over-exited, but the first test went good,” he said, referring to the time trial. “Now Mont Faron will be the second test to see how the legs are on the climb.”

Change of team brings change of mentality:

Roche has spent several years as one of the clear leaders of the teams he has been with, being in that position with Crédit Agricole in 2007 and 2008, and Ag2r La Mondiale in the years since. The 2013 season will be somewhat different; he remains one of the big names on Team Saxo Tinkoff, but he and other strong riders like Roman Kreuziger, Michael Rogers and Matti Breschel are shielded from the top pressure by the presence of Alberto Contador. They want to ride well, of course, but the Spaniard is the one that most attention will be focussed on, thus sparing them a little of that stress.

Roche feels different this year in terms of mentality, both in terms of his own condition and also because of the fact that Contador and other big names are also on the team.

“I am confident, more so than the other years,” he confirmed. “I know I had a good winter, I know my weight is down, I know my shape is okay. I am much more relaxed. All the other years I was always extra stressed in December, January, and I think that is why I always ended up injuring myself. But with the years passing and everything, I have a much more relaxed approach. My attitude is as professional, but it is just a bit more relaxed. My head is right, everything is good.

“Part of that is to do with the other names on the team. When I came to the start here [in the Tour of the Mediterranean – ed.], there was Roman [Kreuziger] as well. The whole importance of me getting results is not as crucial as before because there are other riders on the team.

“Maybe I am more relaxed when I go to the race and say ‘let’s just give my best, and think about points and results later on.’ It worked in the time trial, although I was really nervous about it as I had done a fair bit of work over the winter. I wanted to see if it is was going to pay off. It did, and straight away.

“Sometimes you do get the payment for your hard work, but later - maybe in May or something. But at least now the first TT went okay. Hopefully I am not going to f**k up the one in Paris-Nice! Still, at least the first test, being eighth at just under a minute to the winner, is good enough.”

Seizing chances when the opportunity is there:

However well he goes today and in later races, the team’s pecking order is well defined for this year. Alberto Contador is the undisputed leader for the events that he will target, with the Tour de France being the biggest of those. Roche, Kreuziger, Rogers and the other riders will work for the Spaniard there, sacrificing their own chances to try to help him take a third Tour win.

For Roche, races like the Tour of the Mediterranean and other such events where Contador is not present represent his chance to try to clock up good results for himself. “These races are when I can get my chance, and I’ll try to make the most out of it,” he confirms. “When I won’t be racing with Alberto and I do get the opportunity, it is my role to try and show that I am there and that I can get the results for the team, which is important.

“I hope to be a protected rider at Paris-Nice. Roman will be there as well, I think. It is always good that we have two cards to play…Roman is one of the top riders in the world and it is good to be riding with him.”

While Roche said that he doesn’t want to make comparisons with Ag2r La Mondiale, feeling it is unfair to proclaim one team better than the other, he does seem happy after switching to his new squad. Part of that is the change of scenery, which was important after four years with the same team. There are also new challenges, not least trying to help someone from his team to win the Tour de France, and those changes are vital in staying mentally focussed.

The chance to learn from more experienced riders is also appreciated, and is something that he has said he hopes will make him a better team leader later on in his career.

“I needed something different,” he confirms. “Ag2r was good for me when I was younger, and this is good for me now to mature.

“I am really happy with the team and how I think it has been going so far. There is a good group of guys here. For example, I have been working for almost three months now with Michael Rogers. I have a lot to learn from him about time trials – he was three times world champion – and there are also a lot of other good riders on the team too.

“I think there are a lot of little details that all add up and make a difference to me. Having a less stressful approach to racing is one benefit. Overall, I’m happy with things, and hope a good season is ahead.”

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