‘No regrets’: Roche pleased with Vuelta result, now eyeing world championships
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Sunday, September 19, 2010

‘No regrets’: Roche pleased with Vuelta result, now eyeing world championships

by Shane Stokes at 5:07 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Vuelta a España, World Championships
 
Making strong progress, will keep working hard

Nicolas RocheAlthough he was just 43 seconds off Joaquin Rodriguez’s fourth place, a mere 20 seconds off the fifth position taken by Frank Schleck and knows where he could have made up the time, Irish rider Nicolas Roche has told VeloNation that he leaves Madrid content with his breakthrough Vuelta performance.

“I was happy. I gave everything yesterday on the last climb trying to get a bit of time on [Xavier] Tondo, but he came back onto me in the last 200 metres. No regrets,” he said this evening. “Okay, I am a bit disappointed with my time trial but I have to be pleased with seventh overall. I wanted to be top ten, I was seventh and very close to fifth, so I am happy enough. With a bit more work, it is possible to do better again.”

Prior to this year’s Vuelta, Roche had taken 13th in the race two years, 22nd in last year’s Tour de France and then 15th in this year’s Tour. He continued his upwards progression by jumping up a level in the Vuelta, showing little fatigue despite the fact that this is his first time to do two Grand Tours in one season.

Netting seventh overall was his first time to break into the single digits in a three week race and, unlike his Vuelta performance of two years ago, his result came on the back of daily fights against the other contenders. In 2008 he picked up over seven minutes when he infiltrated the breakaway to Las Rozas, netting second on the stage. This time round, there was no such time gain; every second acquired was against the big guns, with Roche battling away in his characteristic, determined style.

“It was great, I was really happy with the way I was climbing,” he said, when asked what it was like to be squaring up against riders like overall winner Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo), Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) and others. “I do feel that I have lost a bit of power for sprinting and everything but, at the end of the day, what I want to do is fight for GC and have more performance on the climbs. So it doesn’t matter if I lose a bit of power for the sprints.”

Roche was actually lying fifth overall during the race, but slipped back two places towards the end. Still, seventh is a superb result for the 26 year old, particularly so as he was just a handful of seconds off higher placings. Yet, when asked if seventh was above his pre-race expectations, he played down such a suggestion.

“I go into every race to do as well as possible, so I can’t say it is above my expectations,” he answered. “I did say that I wanted to get a top ten here. Seventh is top ten…when I said I wanted to get top ten, I didn’t mean [only] ninth.”

His matter of fact answer shows his ambition; when he achieves a strong result, when he shows progression on what he has done before, he immediately aims higher. It’s accurate to say that he’s satisfied, but isn’t wasting time clapping himself on the back about what he achieved.

“I am really pleased with what I did, but I’m not saying it is a dream,” he explained. "I’m not saying “I have been seventh in the Vuelta, it is a dream come true…” No, that is not true. I am happy with what I did, I am really excited about it, but it is not above my expectations. It would be sad if it was above my expectations.”

At 26 years of age, the norms of physiology suggest that Roche should automatically get stronger over the next two or three seasons. Riders’ peaks tend to be around 28 or 29. However, he doesn't plan to rely only on that natural progression, but will instead continue to work hard at his weaknesses. One point that can be improved is his time trial abilities; he was just 38th in the Peñafiel time trial on Wednesday, dropping 1’34 to Nibali and a full 3’29 to Peter Velits (HTC Columbia). He also lost 23 seconds to Nibali’s Liquigas squad in the opening team time trial.

So, while his climbing is clearly improving, he needs to become stronger in the race against the clock if he is to fight for the podium in the Grand Tours. One thing he can do to gain is to get a time trial bike to use at home; surprisingly, he doesn’t yet have this, even though many of the sport’s top time trialists regularly train on their machines in order to get used to the more extreme position.

Roche knows that this is something he needs to ensure is corrected by the Ag2r La Mondiale squad. “I think it is one of the most important details to help progress, to have a TT bike at home. I think most of the riders do,” he said. “French teams are not the best for that yet, though. But, slowly and surely…”

Before then, before thinking about equipment and training and his plans for the months ahead, he is going to focus on getting ready for the world championships. Surprisingly, he will only get there a handful of days before the event, even though some others are travelling out in the next few days in order to get recover from the flight and to get used to the time zones.

“I’ll fly home tonight [to Italy, where he lives] and then I am heading to Australia next Tuesday week. Before going, I will focus on recovery, but keep on the bike,” he explained. “It is important to keep the legs spinning, then get ready again. I’ll get back to long training before I head to Australia and do some shorter stuff there to sharpen up.”

His prospects depend very much on how things go between now and then. If he has residual Vuelta tiredness, he’ll find it tough to square up riders like Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma Lotto), who rode the Vuelta but held back on certain stages, then targeted others.

However if he comes out of the Spanish tour with strong form and is firing on all cylinders on October 3rd, he should once again be taking the fight to the big guns, and battling away in his driven, determined way. Filippo Pozzato has pinpointed him as one to watch in the worlds. After his breakthrough Vuelta peformance, it’s hard to argue with that.

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