RIDER FEATURE: Nicolas Roche

Nicolas Roche at a Giro d'Italia Press Conference in Belfast
Nicolas Roche at a Giro d'Italia Press Conference in Belfast

Ireland’s Nicolas Roche has virtually ruled out any chance of wearing the Maglia Rosa during the Grande Partenza.

The 29-year-old son of 1987 Giro d’Italia winner Stephen Roche, believes that his Tinkoff-Saxo team are better suited to the high mountains in Italy rather than the opening team time trial and the two sprint stages that finish in Belfast and Dublin respectively this weekend.

Unlike his cousin Dan Martin who rides for the highly effective Garmin-Sharp team, or Sky’s Irishman Philip Deignan, Roche says his team is full of lightweight climbers who will come through on the third week of the tour.

With two Category 1 mountain top finishes on the penultimate two stages, Roche’s team will indeed fancy their chances.

Stage 19 sees a climb of 1712m to the top of the Cima Grappa with nearly a 10.5 per cent average gradient, then the famous Monte Zoncolan at 1750 metres with ramps of around a quad-bursting 23 per cent.

“I don’t think it will be a big chance for me to wear the pink jersey this weekend,” said a nonchalant Roche.

“As far as the opening Time Trial is concerned, our team at Tinkoff is not set for that event.

“However, we are definitely going to give it the biggest shot that we can. But our main focus is to not lose as little time as possible on the other team.

“We have come here with a big team of climbers and it is going to be an advantage to us on the third week when there are some crucial mountain stages, unfortunately it will be a disadvantage on Friday,” said Roche, who just cannot wait to turn the pedals on his home tarmac and feel the atmopshere.

“The Giro will do two things. A lot of fans travel from Europe to give us support during the year and this will be their reward, and also it will allow other people to discover what a Grand Tour is. They are such enormous sporting events, and they are also shows which will give everyone a fantastic vibe.

“The Giro itself broadcasts to nearly 800,000 million people around the world, so for four days non-stop, you are going to get blanket coverage of the country. That’s why the Tour de France invests so heavily in their television coverage. The cycle race is one thing, but the spectacular helicopter shots of the countryside sets alight the tourism aspect.

“So while it is the cyclists who are doing the hard graft, it is also about the fields, the sea, the cliffs, and our beautiful local landscape. Commentators as well add a little few words as the peleton goes through towns which brings a bit of history to proceedings,” said Roche, who believes he is as ready as anyone for the race even though he has been quietly coming to the boil.

“Yes, I think so, we will see once we get started,” said Roche with that boyish Irish smile. “I’ve put in a lot of effort during training, like everyone else on the tour, so hopefully all the hard work pays off,” said Roche, whose full-on training schedule was interrupted during November at a training camp when he aggravated an old football injury.

“The knee injury happened during the winter,” said Roche who will take part in his 11th Grand Tour and his second Giro d’Italia after finishing 125th back in his early days.

“The injury happened doing training off the bike agt the team’s HQ in Gran Canaria and after two weeks found the injury was not improving.

“I continued training on it, but was not aware of the seriousness of the injury which turned out to be a torn cruciate ligament on a weakness when I was a teenager.

“Obviously it took a lot out of me at the start of the year as I had to change my whole preparation for the season,” said Roche looking extremely relaxed amongst all the leading contenders in the Fight for Pink. “I was nearly 10 weeks off, but I have worked and now it feels grand. I feel it is now all behind me now.

“The only thing that the injury did was stop my early goals of the season. I had hoped to participate in the Italian Tirrino-Adriatico classic in March and had to change my programme to adapt to that. But I wasn’t at the level that I wanted at the start of the year.

“I’ve been looking forward to this moment for a few months now and really super-excited to be on the eve of a Grand Tour here in Ireland. To be honest I just can’t wait to get going now after being such a long wait since it was first announced that the first three stages were coming to Ireland.

“There’s no doubt it is going to be a great event right from tomorrow evening when we have the team presentation. To be the home boy as it where, doesn’t mean you have home advantage. There are a lot of tricky situations to encounter before we hit Dublin.”