Nicolas Roche Interview: “There’s a long way to go. I want to keep my head cool and not get overexcited”
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Monday, August 26, 2013

Nicolas Roche Interview: “There’s a long way to go. I want to keep my head cool and not get overexcited”

by Shane Stokes at 8:59 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Vuelta a España
 
Irishman speaks of relief of winning first stage in his eleventh Grand Tour, remains fixed on top five finish in GC

Nicolas RocheLooking ahead after having what he termed ‘the best day of his life,’ and winning his first Grand Tour stage, Nicolas Roche now has another goal in the crosshairs: finishing in the top five of the Vuelta a España.

Roche was sixth three years ago in 2010, a race he considers to have been the previous high point in terms of his Grand Tour performances. He’s approached this race differently, though, and hopes that it will pay off as the Vuelta progresses.

“In other years, between the Tour and Vuelta I stayed at home. This year, to give myself an even better chance, I didn’t stay at home. I’ve only spent three nights at home since the Tour,” he told VeloNation late yesterday evening, while getting a massage and finally having the chance to watch his stage win on the television.

“I went off to altitude for a training camp with Romain and [Matteo] Tosatto. It was just that extra bit of sacrifice. I was already away about four weeks before the Tour, then I was off during the Tour. It would be so easy to say, ‘the Tour is over, I will just stay at home and take it easy.’

“But I felt like I was coming into form at the end of the Tour and I really wanted to give myself the best chance possible, so I said ‘no, the season’s over in October, I have to stay focussed and go up and work.’”

Roche felt a genuine elation after yesterday’s performance, taking the stage in what he believes was the perfect way. Alone at the top of a mountain, rolling over the line with some of the world’s top riders behind him. He’d have liked a little longer to savour the moment, but said that the emotion he felt at the moment of his victory was strong and made everything worthwhile.

The confidence the result will give him is reason to believe that it could help him become a more regular winner in the future.

In addition to it being the first Grand Tour of his career, the success also took a huge amount off his mind, removing a substantial monkey from his back.

He’s previously taken second on stages of the Vuelta and the Tour de France and had a number of other high places. However until now he has been banging on the door but being unable to make the breakthrough he so badly wanted.

Roche has also had a frustrating season this year, riding below his best form for much of it, and had to sacrifice his chances in the Tour de France for team leader Alberto Contador. He knew that would be required of him by his Saxo Tinkoff team, of course, but had hoped to show himself better in 2013. The emotions of delivering on the chance he had yesterday were very strong and take a load off his mind.

“Today washed away all the frustration I have had over the last few years, always going to soon or too late, left or right,” the Irishman told VeloNation. “I finally made it and took my first Grand Tour victory, and am over the moon with it.

“My last win was in China in 2011, in the Tour of Beijing. I already waited too long. I have been a pro now for eight years and this is my eleventh Grand Tour. I have so many top fives, second and thirds. Today was just such a relief…it took me eight years and eleven Grand Tours to win one.”

Roche’s victory came when he jumped clear on the final climb to the summit finish of Alto Do Monte Da Groba. Leopold Konig of the NetApp Endura was out front but Roche, Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Dani Moreno (Katusha) got across to him.

The Irishman rode calmly, explaining in the interview below that Saxo Tinkoff boss Bjarne Riis was speaking in his earpiece and tell him not to jump too soon. When he made his move he was clearly the strongest, overhauling Pozzovivo and opening a two second gap to closest challenger Moreno.

The success and concomitant time bonus saw him end the day second overall. With another tough finish today he has in theory a chance of taking the red leader’s jersey from Vincenzo Nibali, but he’s not sure if that will work out.

Nicolas Roche“That would be another dream, to be in the leader’s jersey. I have been pretty close – last year I was only about twelve seconds back on one of the stages when Simon Clarke won, and obviously this year in the Tour it would have been a huge dream for me to have the jersey in the team time trial in Nice on the day of my birthday. That didn’t work out either.

“But I don’t think I am going to put an extra eight seconds on Nibali. I think that today I benefitted from the fact that Nibali was watching Valverde and Valverde was watching Nibali. I slipped away. I don’t think I would benefit from that tomorrow,” he said, referring to stage three.

Still, he’ll ride as well as he can and see how things play out.

Longer term, he wants to see what he can do in the general classification. “Top five was my initial goal. It is going to be extremely difficult but today I did something that I was hoping for but wasn’t sure if I could do it.

“I was sixth in the Vuelta two years ago and, like I said, the Vuelta is my favourite race. Every year I have been going well here. I’d love finally to be able to break into top five in a Grand Tour. That would be my next major goal.”

Roche is Ireland’s fifth Vuelta stage winner after Shay Elliott, Sean Kelly, Philip Deignan and Dan Martin. He speaks in detail below about his biggest career success and how it could change him as a rider.


Nicolas Roche: Today was probably the best day on the bike for me. If I dreamed of winning a race, today is the way I would have dreamed to win it. Today washed away all the frustration I have had over the last few years, always going to soon or too late, left or right. I finally made it and took my first Grand Tour victory, and am over the moon with it.

VeloNation: You seemed to have a cool head when the riders were jumping around. Did you feel more confident than in other races?

NR: I felt comfortable. At least today, if there is a benefit from the radio, it worked for me today. When I went the first time with the group of four, I had Bjarne on the radio calming me down, saying ‘Nico, take it calm, take it calm, don’t go too soon.’ Eventually I went, then I didn’t hear anything more.

At that moment maybe in some other years I would have pulled flat out and then got beaten when the guys came from behind me. But this time I said I have to chance it, I have to wait, I have to pace myself. I had the advantage of knowing the finish as we went to see it the other day. I knew that there was a bit of a downhill with a couple of hundred metres to go, so I had to make the bigger effort before then and have that advantage.

Before I put my hands up, I was sprinting all the way to the line. I almost couldn’t believe it, and I only put my arms up in the air crossing the line. I felt, ‘wow, that’s it, I’ve won,’ and that was it.

VN: Did you have a real feeling of elation when you crossed the line?

NR: It was, yes. My last win was in China in 2011, in the Tour of Beijing. I already waited too long. I have been a pro now for eight years and it is my eleventh Grand Tour. I have so many top fives, second and thirds. Today was just such a relief. It took me eight years and eleven Grand Tours to win one.

It was funny, I was laughing in the protocol area with the doctor, who had stayed with me as I had to go to the control. I was saying that I hadn’t been on a Grand Tour podium for any jersey in my career, I have only been on the podium for team prizes. But today I was on the podium for three jerseys and there were also special prizes from the local community. So five times in a row I was there.

I went from never being on the podium with any jersey in my career, then suddenly I get three jerseys, special prizes and everything. I had a bit of a laugh about it to calm the nerves down as I was over-excited, over the moon. It took me a long time to calm down.

VN: Do you feel that you are in better form than you have been in a Grand Tour before?

NR: Yeah, I would say so. I am similar to 2010, I think. My approach has been different. When I was riding the Tour, I rode GC in the Tour in 2010. This time I am probably fresher as well. I have made some changes as well.

In other years, between the Tour and Vuelta I stayed at home. This year, to give myself an even better chance, I didn’t stay at home. I’ve only spent three nights at home since the Tour,” he told VeloNation late yesterday evening, while getting a massage and finally having the chance to watch his stage win on the television.

I went off to altitude for a training camp with Romain and [Matteo] Tosatto. It was just that extra bit of sacrifice. I was already away about four weeks before the Tour, then I was off during the Tour. It would be so easy to say, ‘the Tour is over, I will just stay at home and take it easy.’

But I felt like I was coming into form at the end of the Tour and I really wanted to give myself the best chance possible, so I said ‘no, the season’s over in October, I have to stay focussed and go up and work.’

I am actually really, really happy that it turned out. I was actually very nervous in the last few days. I knew my form was good when I was in the training camp, but I was like, ‘ah, what if I crash on the first day and I did all this for nothing?’ But now it is the best day of my life so far.

VN: You had said all year that you were finding it difficult to get right down to your ideal racing weight. What did you do to get that last bit off?

NR: Well, when you finish a Tour, if you are careful enough the two kilos I had too much just dropped down in ten days anyway, without doing anything in particular. The body is still working flat out. If you are really careful and you are not eating as much, it is pretty easy to control.

Nicolas RocheI am not ten kilos lighter than the other years. I think I am the same weight as in 2010. I am not setting any records here, but it is just this year in the Tour, for some reason I wasn’t able to be as lean as I was in the other years.

I had two extras extra…to have that in the Tour is the biggest handicap that you can ever have.

VN: You are second overall in GC heading into stage three. There is another good finish ahead, one that could suit you. Is trying to take the leader’s jersey important for you at this point of the race, or how are you going to tackle things?

NR: Well, that would be another dream, to be in the leader’s jersey. I have been pretty close – last year I was only about twelve seconds back on one of the stages when Simon Clarke won, and obviously this year in the Tour it would have been a huge dream for me to have the jersey in the team time trial in Nice on the day of my birthday. That didn’t work out either.

But tomorrow…I don’t think I am going to put an extra eight seconds on Nibali. I think that today I benefitted from the fact that Nibali was watching Valverde and Valverde was watching Nibali. I slipped away. Maybe because I have had a quieter season, they actually didn’t see me as a threat when I went. I might have benefited from that this time around. But I don’t think I would benefit from that tomorrow.

VN: Then again, maybe you have great condition and you are underestimating what you did…

NR: Yes, I am definitely in one of the best periods of form of my career. Like I said, I am like I was back in 2010, but I am lucky that this year I haven’t been injured or anything. I’ve only had an issue of not being 100 percent.

At the Tour, even though I was at 100 percent of form, I just had those two kilos extra. Luckily enough all of my training and everything was done right and I was able to do what I had to do. I just wasn’t performing in the high mountains.

VN: Looking at the overall, the top five is your goal?

NR: Top five was my initial goal. It is going to be extremely difficult but today I did something that I was hoping for but wasn’t sure if I could do it. I was sixth in the Vuelta three years ago and, like I said, the Vuelta is my favourite race. Every year I have been going well here. I’d love finally to be able to break into top five in a Grand Tour. That would be my next major goal.

But there’s a long way to go. I want to keep my head cool and not get overexcited. I really want to enjoy today as a day, but then tomorrow I will be focussed again.


Also see: Saxo Tinkoff video interview with Roche

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