Nicolas Roche Interview: Dissecting a strong Paris-Nice performance
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Monday, March 15, 2010

Nicolas Roche Interview: Dissecting a strong Paris-Nice performance

by VeloNation Press at 8:25 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
 

Now in his sixth season as a professional, Nicolas Roche appears to be moving on to a new level with his best-ever early season performance. Yesterday he finished eleventh overall in Paris-Nice, adding fourth on the final stage to earlier placings of third, sixth and eighth.

The 25 year old Irish road race champion rode with greater maturity than before, leading the Ag2r La Mondiale squad to first place in the team standings. He sparked off the stage winning breakaway on day four to Aurillac, attacking on the final climb of the day, the Côte de la Martinie, and being joined by five strong riders, including stage winner Peter Sagan (Liquigas) and eventual race champion Alberto Contador (Astana).

Roche performed well on several other stages, and now appears to be a long way from the rider who was known mainly for kamikaze attacks earlier in his career.

He finished 13th overall in the 2008 Vuelta a España, 24th in last year’s Tour de France – as well as second, fourth, eighth, eighth and tenth on stages – and is developing into a rider who can certainly challenge for big results.

VeloNation spoke to Roche after yesterday’s final stage, asking him for his analysis about the race, his thoughts on his season thus far, leading the Ag2r La Mondiale team plus his plans and targets for the weeks ahead.

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Q: Nicolas, Paris-Nice has just ended and you got fourth on the final stage. You also moved up to eleventh overall in the race. What’s your reaction to that?

A: Well, it was an important stage for me. I was pretty steady on the climbs too, so I was happy.

Q: You were six seconds off a place in the top ten, your stated goal for Paris-Nice. You were pipped for third on the stage by Alejandro Valverde. If you had got third, how many bonus seconds would you have got?

A: Not enough. I think it’s ten, six and four. If had got third, I would have got four seconds but it wouldn’t have been enough.

I tried to go for the bonus sprint after 20 kilometres but everyone went for it and I was fifth. I was hoping there to make a difference.

Later on, riders like Voigt and Coppel were dropped on the climb but came back on the drag at the top of the Col d’Eze, just before the descent. That was a bit of a pity as I was all excited. I was saying to myself, ‘Voigt is dropped, Coppel is dropped and others, I can hope for top seven or eight,’ but unfortunately they came back just before the descent.

At one point, Contador and the three guys were in front, then Sanchez and Taaramae just behind, and then there was a group of four; that mountain-biker from Lotto, myself, Kreuziger and Samuel Sanchez. So I was pretty happy with that. Then Voigt just powered back up to us with a couple of others on his wheel.

Q: You are a few kilos lighter this year than at the same time in other seasons. Do you think that has made the difference on the climbs?

A: Yes, of course it makes a difference, at this level. At Paris-Nice, every detail counts, and every kilo counts, even more.

Q: I don’t know how you would compare it with your Vuelta ride in 2008 [where he was 13th overall], but I guess that is probably up there with your best-ever climbing. Is that fair enough to say?

A: I think so. Maybe not my absolute best, as I was pretty decent at that Vuelta, but it would certainly be fair enough to say that it’s up there as one of my best examples.

Q: You were six seconds off tenth place in this Paris-Nice. Is that very disappointing for you?

A: I am pretty disappointed not to get top ten. I was feeling pretty good and wanted to try something different in the time trial, but I lost a lot of time as I tried to use much smaller gears than usual. I am pretty frustrated about that. But it just shows how important an eight kilometre prologue can be for GC.

Then I was a bit disappointed with the Col de Mende, where I completely blew with a kilometre to go. I went from really comfortable to being in the red in one minute. With the cold and everything, it just didn’t do it for me.

Q: Yet you finished 17th on the climb; that’s not bad. You are far better than where you were in any other season at this time…

A: Yes, it is incomparable to other years at this time of the season. You can compare it to the Tour [09], the Vuelta [08] – I think I have done one of my best performances, full stop.

Maybe not the best as you can say that l’Angliru was my top show of climbing and you can talk about other things, but in fairness I think this has been right up there. I had four top tens in six stages, so I was pretty pleased with that as well.

Q: So where do you go now – what’s the plan?

A: Home! [laughs] I do Catalunya next week.

Q: Did you peak for Paris-Nice, or can you keep building form and ride well there?

A: Well, I was really hoping to go well for Paris-Nice as it was important to me and to the team as well. I was expecting to go well, but I didn’t know how good I could go. In the back of my mind, I was thinking I was going to go well for Paris-Nice and even better for Catalunya. In Paris-Nice, I thought it would be Valjavec and Nocentini. That is the way I was thinking, that I would be maybe more free [to do his own thing] in Catalunya because there are no mountain-top finishes.

That is the way I was thinking, but then what’s there is there. I am not going to complain that I am on my good form now. At least I can say this year that I have done a satisfying start of the year, even though we are only in March. I hope that I can still try to keep my form for another bit.

Q: So it’s possible to hang on for another week?

A: Well, hopefully! I would be disappointed if I was going nowhere next week…

Q: After that, do you allow the form to back off slightly, then come back up later?

A: Well, after that I have the Circuit de la Sarthe, which is an easier race. I will have no pressure, I will just let it play out again. After that it will be Amstel, then Flèche Wallone, Liège and Romandie, so I have another big chunk to come after that.

It is a question of being able to keep it until next week. So I have to be really careful about the food and then the motivation for next week. Then I have two and a half weeks where I can let off, one or two days at least, then slowly build it up without pressure to try to go well again for the Classics.

I would like to go well in a Classic – I have proven that I can go well in stage races, or on stages at least, but last week in the GP dell’Insubria [where he was third] was my first high placing in a one-day Classic.

Q: Has this Paris-Nice performance been important in earning the confidence of the team? The other Ag2r riders seemed to work really well for you a couple of days ago when they put the hammer down en route to Aix en Provence…

A: Definitely, yes. You saw the real difference from the start of the week, where I was always isolated and where I was managing to do all the stuff by myself. Even yesterday, I had a good ride from the team and the day before, when they rode the whole day…we were expecting a bit more wind, it didn’t happen, but the idea was for that.

Today Valjavec led out the sprint well. He gave his all, he couldn’t go any further…I would have preferred 100 metres more, but he gave everything anyway. I was on his wheel and I could see him just trying to get out of the saddle every time to push it an extra ten or twenty metres. But the initiative was there.

The same for yesterday [the stage to Tourettes sur Loup]…we messed up, but the initiative was there and the idea of doing the things was there. It is not happening yet, but we are trying hard anyway.

Q: You won the team classification in Paris-Nice – is that important to your team manager Vincent Lavenu and to others?

A: I think so. It is a pity that it is just a medal around the neck as there are no points. There’s no real big financial reward…I think it is 200 euros or something like that, something ridiculous, but it is just for the sake of saying that we were the strongest team, or at least the first three riders. But it is not as important as two or three years ago when the points schemes were different, where the actual points for the year were taken by teams in events.

Now, they just add up the top five points of the riders to make up the top team of the year. It is a lot different than a couple of years ago.

But, it is always good…we went on the podium, it is a bit of a relief, everybody says thank you. We were all a bit tense in the bus still as yesterday we were working for me and we were expecting me to be able to get a top five again. But we were never able to get the things going for me to even try to do the sprint.

We kind of messed up, and we had a bit of frustration and everybody started arguing with everybody. Not for the sake of giving out to each other, but just in frustration because we wanted to do things right and it was simply not working. There was some disappointment.

So today, I was eleventh, six seconds down, what a pity. Everybody was a bit so-so, but then okay – we won the team, and I scored an extra few points for the team, being fourth. It cooled the atmosphere down. We gave each other a good handshake and say, ‘thanks, see you next week.’ It worked out well and now we will keep building.

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