Nicolas Roche feature: Rejigging everything in order to be as strong as possible for the Giro d’Italia
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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Nicolas Roche feature: Rejigging everything in order to be as strong as possible for the Giro d’Italia

by Shane Stokes at 9:51 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Giro d'Italia
New approach for Irish rider, who also hopes to hit higher level in Tour de France

Nicolas RocheHaving been given a green light to line out in the Giro d’Italia next year, Nicolas Roche has pledged to work hard with a new racing and training schedule in order to ensure that he is in the best shape possible for the race. The Team Saxo Tinkoff rider will have a substantially modified programme in 2014 so as to boost the chance that he hits strong condition for the May ninth start in Belfast.

The first three days of the race will take place in Ireland, giving Roche a very rare opportunity to ride a Grand Tour in front of home fans. The thoughts of that motivate him and so too the likely leadership role he will have, affording him the chance to go for stage wins and the general classification.

“I’m obviously very exited. I had told the team it was really important for me to do the race, and the management told me a month ago that they were going to think about it. It is very nice of them to let me go for the Giro,” he told VeloNation this week.

Prior to the start of the 2013 season Roche was brought on board as a helper for Alberto Contador, although he was also told that he would get his chances in some events other than the Tour. The question mark about whether or not he would be given the green light to ride the Giro originated mainly because in recent years, many riders have struggled to hit top form in the Tour after being good in Italy.

There is an element of risk in that regard, and so Roche is consequently appreciative that the team will allow him to race.

Now 29 years of age, he last rode the Giro in 2007; in fact, that was his only time to date to do the Italian Grand Tour. As a result he’s got limited experience of it but, having lived in Italy for many years and competed in other Italian races, he knows about the passion of the fans and the tough nature of the country’s climbs.

He’s looking forward to the experience. “I have never really prepared for a Giro, or in general prepared for a race in that time of the year. Over the last five, six years, my goals were always much later in the season,” he said.

“I am going to try to be there in the best shape possible. It is all new – I am going to have a new race programme to approach the Giro, more training camps and all that. So hopefully I will be there in top form.”

Roche and his team are yet to finalise his calendar, but a rough outline of the events he will ride has been drawn up. “I am starting in Oman. Things can change yet, but at the moment it is Oman, then Tirreno, Sanremo and then the Ardennes Classics,” he explained. “I’ll be doing Amstel, Flèche and Liège. It is a lighter programme than other years, but there will also be training camps. We will do them with the Giro group. It will be interesting, I’m looking forward to getting into it.”

Given the importance of going well in the Tour, there had been suggestions by some before now that he might only do a certain amount of the Giro, taking in the days in Ireland and having a chance to go for a stage win in the race, then withdrawing and saving his energy for the French event.

Roche is clear that he doesn’t have the intention of treating the Giro like that. “The plan is that I go for the full race. Obviously things can change in a three week Tour, there is a lot of surprises,” he said. “We’ll see. But if I am going to the Giro and working hard to be there in good shape, I obviously want to do the best possible.”

Asked to clarify what that would mean in terms of specific goals, he said that he would be ambitious and aim high, but also had to acknowledge that he hadn’t tried to peak for a Grand Tour so early in the year before.

“It is a bit of a no man’s land so I am not going to give it any predictions,” he said. “It’s a different time of year to when I am usually going well. For example, I am pretty sure of myself that when I known I am in top form in August, I can say to myself, ‘I know I am going to have a top result in the Vuelta.’

“That I can do. Sometimes I have had better results than other times; for example, when I ended up tenth or twelfth versus when I was sixth or fifth. But at least I am more confident of saying that when I am in top form in August, that I can be good in the Vuelta.

“Because of that, I think it is very soon for me to give a plan of what I am going to do in the Giro. I definitely want to do well, though; I would be disappointed if I wasn’t going to have a good Giro. As I said, even though it is all new for me to prepare for that race, I will do everything possible to be in good shape.”

Maximising his chances of being in top form depends on changing things around with regards his usual schedule. “We have studied my race programme, have come up with a nice one. There are lots of new races that I am doing to get ready for the Giro,” he stated.

“That’s exciting in itself as I have always been doing the same calendar for the last five, or six years. It was pretty much copy and paste.

“This time around, I have a lot of new races. Almost 100 percent of my calendar is new until the Giro, so I am pretty exited by all that.”

Unsurprisingly, he’s fired up by the thoughts of racing in front of the Irish fans. Some of them went to the Tour de France this year and helped form the inaugural Irish corner at Alpe d’Huez; they’ll head back over to the same event next season but, for the Giro, the race will actually come to them.

“I hope it will be huge,” Roche said, speaking of the possible turnout. “In the last few years, the Irish fans have always travelled to see us and they were always very large in numbers. They were always great at creating an atmosphere. I can definitely imagine something very big when we are back in Ireland. I think the patriotic side of the Irish is going to give such a big support to myself, Dan, Martyn Irvine and whomever else is there.

“I am really looking forward to being in Belfast next May.”

Tour de France and Saxo Tinkoff training camp:

Nicolas RocheRoche rode very strongly in this year’s Vuelta a España, winning a stage and briefly leading the race, then going on to finish a career-best fifth overall.

It saw him reach a higher level of form than at the Tour de France; in fact, he’s tended to ride more strongly in the past in his second Grand Tour of the year, as he acknowledged this week.

Because of that, he’s hoping that rather than being fatigued in the Tour after the Giro, he might end up at a higher rather than a lower level. “That is something that I have in the back of my mind. A lot of people who know me also saw that in the last few years,” he said.

“Okay, it is hard to compare the Tour and the Vuelta as the Tour is harder than the Vuelta, but overall I feel that I always tend to be going well a couple of weeks after the Tour. Even when I go to San Sebastian, I am always in top form there.

“So hopefully that’s how it works out after the Giro; the ideal situation is that I would arrive even stronger in the Tour de France.”

All that is months away, though. This week Roche and the rest of the team have been at the Team Saxo Tinkoff training camp in Gran Canaria, getting some work done in advance of the season, building a rapport with the other riders and team managers and also meeting some of the backers and sponsors.

It’s been hard work, but also a lot of fun. “Things are good,” he said. “We have had a variety of activities. It was a bit different to last year as the training camp is taking place a bit later, so we are not doing as much non-cycling stuff as last time; a lot of it is on the bike.

“That said, on the first day we had paintball in the morning and a go kart competition in the afternoon. Then yesterday we were in powerboats and doing activities in the sea.

“They put a beacon about three or four hundred metres away from the boat, and then in teams of five or six we had to push one of the guys on a surfboard to the beacon and back.”

It was fun, but also had a teambuilding element behind it. “It was a pretty hard effort for forty minutes. Obviously the goal is to arrive back to the boat all together in the same time. Those who are not as good at swimming – or even the non-swimmers, as there were some who were brave enough to thrown themselves in the water with a life vest – worked hard to do it. It was a good team effort.

“Tomorrow we have another one of those team bonding sessions. It is similar to what we did last year – a volleyball competition in the morning, then a different competition afterwards, then swimming and pedalboat racing. It’s always in teams, and always keeping in mind that there is a big difference in levels as some of the staff are there and don’t have the same fitness. The idea is not to leave anybody behind, the same as you would hope to do in a race.”

Apart from that, the team has also had sponsors and suppliers travelling to Gran Canaria and showing riders the clothing, glasses and equipment that they will be using next season.

“We also had things like the usual directors’ meeting, where you talk about your programme and plan ahead.”

Roche was speaking to VeloNation on Thursday, one day before the team announced that it would hold a press conference in London on Monday. It has been described as featuring ‘important news’ about the future of the team; a team source has indicated that the announcement will be about the purchase of the team by Oleg Tinkov, something which La Gazzetta dello Sport has also said would happen.

Roche said on Thursday that the riders were in the dark about the deal. “At the moment no-one knows. It is still a big question mark for everyone here,” he said. “We have obviously talked about it on the first few days in the camp. We were told to be patient, to wait and see, and so we will wait and see.”

He and Contador have now been confirmed as attending Monday’s press conference. More details will emerge then but, fundamentally, Roche already knows what the plan is for 2014. Goal number one is to be as good as possible for the Giro, and ride to achieve his best possible result. Goal two is to recover in time for the Tour, then back Contador as best he can, hoping that the Spaniard can win the race.

Everything else, including who actually owns the team, is secondary to that.


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