Stephen Roche Insight: Assessing the Classics season
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Sunday, May 02, 2010

Stephen Roche Insight: Assessing the Classics season

by VeloNation Press at 1:07 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, Spring Classics, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège , Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne
 

With last weekend’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the cycling season moved into its next phase, when the main emphasis will be on stage races such as the Grand Tours. Many of the one day specialists will take a short break and set about regaining their energy after a long, punishing early season building up for their goals; some of those who rode the Ardennes Classics will however keep pushing on, riding the Giro d’Italia next week.

Before consigning the spring Classics to the history books, we look back at the big one-day clashes of the season with former top pro Stephen Roche. The Irishman is well known for his frank views on cycling and discusses a number of topics, including Fabian Cancellara’s dominance, Tom Boonen’s tactical slip-up, Cadel Evans' strong form, Alberto Contador’s consistency and his willingness to race hard for much of the year, as well as Alexandre Vinokourov’s controversial victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

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VeloNation: What was your view of the Classics?

Stephen Roche: They were good, and disappointing at the same time. Okay, we saw Cancellara dominate Flanders and Roubaix, really being head and shoulders above everyone. In Roubaix, Boonen made the tactical error of going back and getting a bottle and letting Cancellara get a few metres. At that level you don’t make those mistakes.

At the same time, the way Cancellara rode, I think that even if Boonen was on his wheel, Cancellara would have done it later on. Cancellara was definitely the strongest rider, but I think the others played a lot into his hands. Once he got away, it was disappointing to see the lack of commitment of the riders behind. They were already riding for second place.

In Flanders, there was no doubt about things. He got away and behind Boonen was on his own - there was no contest. It was unfortunate in Paris-Roubaix that those behind didn’t get organised and try…even if they didn’t catch him, they should at least have tried to bring the gap down.

VeloNation: Roubaix was followed by Amstel, and Gilbert’s win there…

Stephen Roche: Yes, he’s moved to a new level. In the Classics, he’s matured a lot. I like the way he rides, he reminds me a bit of Argentin.

A few days later in Flèche, you had Schleck going over the Mur de Huy on the second last lap, towing a group clear. Once they were clear, the other riders wouldn’t come past. That was another big disappointment…the lack of commitment of some of the riders in breaks.

Okay, it was great to see Cadel Evans winning it. I am really happy for him as he is a great winner.

VeloNation: Do you feel that Evans was stronger than Contador, or did Contador completely miss-time his finishing move?

Stephen Roche: Yes. It wasn’t a col. If it was a col, you’d say Contador [would have won], but it was a strong-man’s finish. Maybe if Contador had really good form, he would have won anyway. But perhaps there were times when Contador is actually on his limit a little bit. This year we have seen a few times where he has not fully hit the nail on the head.

VeloNation: He has won a lot of races this year, but perhaps he doesn’t look as far ahead of some of the other riders in the mountains…

Stephen Roche: Not as dominant, no.

VeloNation: Do you think that is that he hasn’t yet hit top form, or is he a little weaker in the mountains this year than he was in the 2009 Tour?

Stephen Roche: I think he is building up. Sometimes people criticise a Tour rider for winning the Tour but not riding other races. This is a guy out there riding other races, and winning the Tour…maybe he hasn’t won the races in a dominant style, but we should be thankful for that. If he was dominating everything, we would be very upset because there would be a lack of suspense!

So it is great to have him, and also the fact that he is not dominating.

VeloNation: Liège-Bastogne-Liège was the final spring Classic. What are your thoughts on how things went?

Stephen Roche: I thought that Liège was brilliant, it was a super race. Vinokourov winning was good – he is a rider with a lot of talent, as we know. We could go on all day about where he has come from and the history of the last couple of years, but nevertheless he is a worker. He always was a worker.

To come back to winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège, one of the best Classics on the calendar, was a great performance by himself. Also, the riders behind like Gilbert, Evans, Valverde and all those put up a very good fight. So Liège was a good race.

VeloNation: Some people have expressed doubt about the biologicial passport and Vinokourov’s form, given that he won the race much as he did five years ago. He’s served a long suspension for blood doping, yet appears to be racing as strongly as ever. Do you think the criticism he’s got is fair?

Stephen Roche: What about Cancellara’s win in Flanders and Roubaix? Nobody has put that under question [unlike Vinokourov]. I think we have to give confidence to the UCI biologicial passport, in that the UCI is doing its maximum to rid the sport of cheats.

Okay, you can always ask questions, but you are not going to get any answers on it. I think the most important thing is to have confidence in the passport, in that it is going in the right direction. You would always have someone trying to cheat, but we have to hope we are getting less and less of them.

Nevertheless, you can never say ‘yes, everyone is 100% clean,’ there are always going to be doubts in your mind. The only thing you can do is have confidence in the UCI’s passport in that anyone who wants to cheat is taking a big risk that they are going to be caught.

VeloNation: Finally, with the Tour de France two months away, do you think Lance Armstrong has made a mistake in going to the Tour of the Gila rather than doing a tougher European programme?

Stephen Roche: Well, do you think he can win the Tour? I think it is those who want to sell papers are those who are keeping the fire alive (about the rivalry with Contador).

Ok, he could win the Tour, but so could Andy Schleck and I think Schleck has a better possibility of doing it. Armstrong could be limited in a lot of areas. But nevertheless, I think the bank account will be doing quite well anyway [from his return].

Whether he wins or doesn’t, he is very good at communication. His whole communication scheme is working, and he is basically on a winner all the time. Promoting Livestrong, promoting his cause, doing a good job on the racing side of it. Nothing can be said against the guy.


During his career Stephen Roche added many of the sport's biggest races to his palmares, and will be sharing his candid insight with VeloNation readers throughout the 2010 season. Stephen now runs the Roche Marina Hotel in Villeneuve-Loubet, near Nice, France. He hosts teams and individuals who use the hotel as a training base, giving them access to famed local climbs such as the Col d'Eze and Col de Vence, as well as a location that enjoys 320 days per year of sunshine. Roche Marina Hotel
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