Nicolas Roche interview: All for Contador in the Tour de France
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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Nicolas Roche interview: All for Contador in the Tour de France

by Shane Stokes at 6:56 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Tour de France
 
Irishman embraces new role on Team Saxo Tinkoff, tips compatriot Dan Martin for success

Nicolas RocheHe’s finished twelfth and fourteenth in the past and taken second and third on stages but, as the first stage of the Tour de France plays out on the rugged Corsican roads, Nicolas Roche has very different thoughts on his mind. Gone are ideas of personal ambition, of chasing results for himself; instead, an all for one mentality permeates, with Alberto Contador the undisputed chief.

For some it’s a step back for Roche, a rider who has been knocking on the door of a top ten finish and stage win in the race. However in taking a long term view, both he and his father Stephen Roche, the 1987 Tour de France victors, believe that he will develop more as a rider through the opportunity now to study one of the biggest winners in the sport.

“I have put those thoughts out of my mind,” Roche told VeloNation, when asked if there was any room for personal ambition during this year’s Tour. “Okay, maybe sooner or later some occasion can pop out. As I said, a bike race is a bike race and anything can happen.

“But this year is the first year that I am in this situation, and I am better off going in to the race with no personal ambitions. My ambition is that Alberto wins the Tour and I do the best job possible and everyone is happy. That’s the goal.

“If I can get a result on a stage because some day I have to go in the breakaway, then that is good. But it’s not the focus.”

Contador won the race in 2007 and 2009. He was also the rider in yellow in Paris in 2010, although he lost that title due to a positive test for Clenbuterol. The 2013 Tour represents his chance to recapture a third win, and to enhance his chances of that, Team Saxo Tinkoff boss Bjarne Riis made a number of big signings over the winter.

The squad was previously under-strength compared to some of the other teams in the peloton but now it looks far stronger, with riders such as Roche, Roman Kreuziger and Michael Rogers on board and ready to pull for Contador.

When Roche moved to the team he hoped to make jumps in his own level, reasoning that some fresh thinking should help him to gain ground after several years with the Ag2r La Mondiale team. That hasn’t quite worked, though, as his results thus far this year have been quieter than in the past.

Things started well with fifth in the Tour of the Mediterranean but after that he was back in sixteenth in Paris-Nice [a race which had been a targeted early season goal], 41st in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and 37th in Flèche Wallonne.

As Roche explains, one issue was his weight; he followed a new, protein-rich diet prescribed by the team, but had to abandon it after the kilos started to creep up. He’s also been experimenting with his time trial position and after feeling that he had made gains by changing it, he and the team have now agreed that he is actually quicker as he was before.

The recent Tour de Suisse was encouraging, though, as his form started to pick up and he finished a solid fifteenth overall. “The legs were coming around there,” he said, sounding relieved. “It was grand. I was hoping for a bit more, but I am satisfied.”

After that, Roche went home and recovered from the race, passing up the chance to compete in the Irish national championships. He didn’t like to miss an event he normally races in, but felt that this year it was his best option.

“I dug deep in Switzerland and was pretty tired, so I had some easier days to recover before doing a bit more work,” he explained.

“It was too complicated to go back to the nationals. Travelling to Ireland after the Tour de Suisse meant I’d have to leave on the Wednesday...I’d have only one or two days at home. Then with the flights as they are, I’d have to come back on the Monday. Then I’d be leaving for the Tour on the Wednesday morning. The other years I always did it, but I was also in a different shape and there was not as much travelling before.

“This year I have done a lot of training camps beforehand, so there was just that extra tiredness with fewer days at home over the last week. Because of Corsica and everything, it meant that doing the nationals was a bit much.”

Roche has been national championship in the past and would like to take the distinctive Irish jersey again, and admits he had mixed feelings about missing the race. “It wasn’t an easy choice – you know how much dedication I’ve put in the last few years to go to the nationals,” he said. “It was a hard decision to take, but I think I would have gone to Ireland and not been at my best. I would have gone to the Tour not having recovered from one or the other, from Suisse or the nationals. It was a smarter move to skip the nationals.”

Form and function:

Asked how he feels his form is starting the Tour, he admits that he’s a little in the dark. “I don’t know actually. Other years I came and I knew that I was in my top condition. This year, talking to you before the start, I would say I am perhaps not in the same top form as last year, but maybe in a week’s time I can tell you something completely different.”

Nicolas RocheStill, even if he is a little short, he believes that it could pay off later on in the race. “In the last three years I arrived in top form and I always paid for it in the third week. But in my first two Tour de Frances, I was always super strong in the third week.

“In 2009, in the first week I was going okay but not great, but in the third week I was flying. In 2010 it was the same. In my first two mountain stages I lost a fair bit of time, but going into the third week I was going super-good. I think I am in more the 2009 scenario rather than in 2011 or last year, where I was very good in the first ten days, I was always around eighth or tenth position, but then lost a couple of places in the last week.”

When VeloNation spoke to Roche, the team was yet to discuss the tactics for the opening few days of the race. However he was clear in his belief that he, Kreuziger, Rogers and others would be fulfilling their backup roles from the drop of the flag today, their functions within the team defined from the off.

“I’m pretty sure it will be all for Alberto from the start. That is what I would do if I was the team director,” he said.

Roche may be putting his own ambitions to one side, but his fellow Irishman and first cousin Dan Martin is in a very different position. As he told VeloNation in a long interview, Martin is ambitious heading into the race and is hoping to have the chance to chase stages, the mountains jersey and a high overall finish.

The Garmin-Sharp team has several riders who could be general classification contenders and Martin recognises that, accepting that if one of them gets into a break and gains a lot of time, that the others will have to ride for them. However if they are together heading into the mountains, he seems to have the form to push for a big result.

Asked how he believes Martin can do, Roche is generous in his praise. “To sum up what my dad [1987 Tour de France winner Stephen Roche – ed.] said, I think anything is possible from Dan. Dan has showed over the years now that he has progressed and he is more and more stable; before, he was one of the best riders two or three times a year, but he was also having some quieter moments.

“But this year has been very impressive. He was already becoming much more constant last year. I saw him in the airport when I arrived, he looked as fit as ever. I think Dan can break into the top ten if everything goes right for him.

“I definitely see him trying something cheeky at some point in one of the mountain stages, an unexpected attack. He could pull off a stage win in the Tour – it would be great to get an Irish win on a stage. That hasn’t happened in a while. He has done in the Vuelta and many other races, so why not here?”

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