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An interview with Nicolas Roche, October 16, 2005
Back in green and happy with year one
The 2005 peloton includes quite a few riders with famous family names. Axel Merckx, Frank Vandenbroucke, Kevin Van Impe and Hervé Duclos-Lassalle are some of those, and so too Nicolas Roche, son of the Irishman who in 1987 won the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and World road race championships in one season. Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes caught up with Roche after re-declaring for Ireland to get a verdict on 2005 and his plans for 2006.
Living up to his father Stephen's achievements was always going to be a difficult task. However, much as Axel Merckx did years earlier, Roche Junior nevertheless decided to give up soccer and concentrate on the sport which made his father a household name. That comes with both advantages and disadvantages: he's guaranteed more attention than many other young riders, but also faces more pressure and the weight of expectation. He has taken it in his stride, though, riding well over the past few years.
In 2004 he had a consistent stream of placings in France plus a bronze medal in the Irish road race championship; this earned him a stage with the Cofidis team, the trial turning into a two year pro deal when he netted a tenth place in the GP d'Isbergues.
Heading into the 2005 season, Roche was just 20 years of age and the youngest rider on the team. But he quickly got into his stride, riding well in the season-starting Etoile de Bessèges. He was away during a long breakaway on stage 2, and then helped set his team-mate Jimmy Casper up for a final-day victory by going on the attack inside the final ten kilometres of the last stage.
In April he showed the same aggression when he went clear with 11 others in the Tour du Finistère, finishing a fine sixth in the 1.1 event. One month later, he went better again when he placed fourth in the similarly-ranked Tour de Vendée. However that upward trajectory was disrupted when he dislocated his elbow in June. He came back from that and showed good form later in the summer, riding well in support of team leaders Sylvain Chavanel and Janak Tombak.
Roche was pleased with his debut season, although his natural ambition means that he up-scaled his expectations after a couple of months. "It's pretty much what I was aiming for," he told Cyclingnews. "At the beginning of the year I said that I wanted at least one or two top ten places. So when I got two of them I was happy enough with that, at first. But then you want to get a third top ten or perhaps a victory, as well…you always want more."
As regards 2006, he's already laid out his plans. "I want to be competitive from the start of the season next year. I should be doing the Giro or the Vuelta; the team said I would be doing a big Tour, and I doubt it will be the Tour de France. I should be doing one of the other two.
"I'm happy with that - doing a three week tour will be my big goal for 2006. Once I know which one I'll be doing, I will focus my preparation on that goal. I want to be very competitive for that and to finish it."
Although Roche will spend most of the year in the red, white and blue of Cofidis, he will also have the chance once again to don the green of Ireland. Earlier this year he announced that he was declaring for France, opting for the same nationality as his mother Lydia. He said at the time that he was told he had to decide between Ireland and France, and plumped for the latter as he plans to spend the rest of his life there. However, he has since found out that dual nationality is indeed possible, and so has reversed his decision in order to go back to riding with those he grew up with.
Roche is happy, and so too those involved with Irish cycling. After all, he is he the only rider currently on a ProTour team and, as his debut season suggests, a very good future may well be in store for the 21 year old with a famous family name.
Cyclingnews: First off, Nicolas, how are things going for you at the moment?
Nicolas Roche: I am keeping well; I'm enjoying my break. I finished early this year as I had a small bit of tendonitis in my ankle and also strained a ligament in my upper leg.
CN: How was your year in general?
NR: I had pretty good results in March, April and May. They were my good months. I got sixth in the Tour du Finistère and then fourth in the Tour de Vendée. The thing is that with a team like Cofidis we always have to ride for the leaders, so in the other races I was doing that. I did mainly stage races this year - four to five day events, and most of the time we had to ride for the team leader. Twice that was Chavanel and once Tombak; they got the jersey so we had to defend that.
As I said, my best months were March to May. I then had a bad crash in the Tour of Luxembourg in June. I dislocated my elbow but was, luckily, only 10 days off the bike. So it could have been worse.
CN: Looking at the results you got in that good period, did the year work out better than you expected when you turned pro over the winter?
NR: No, it's pretty much what I was aiming for. At the beginning of the year I said that I wanted at least one or two top ten places. So when I got two of them I was happy enough with that, at first. But then you want to get a third top ten or perhaps a victory, as well…you always want more.
In one sense I'm happy because I started well, but then I had the crash so that changed things round. In July I wasn't going well, then I got things back on track in August. On one of the days I had a good ride…it was on the hard stage of the Tour of Benelux, where I did 200 kilometres in the breakaway. There were 12 of us up the road all day and we were only caught by the chasing group with 20 kilometres to go. I finished 70th or 80th overall in the end - I lost time on the two last stages as I wasn't motivated.
Then we had to ride for Chavanel in the Tour du Poitou Charentes, so I had to be in good form there. We all sacrificed ourselves as that was his home race. He absolutely wanted to win down there, and in the end he and the team pulled it off.
I was hoping to get a few good results in the one-day races after that but Cofidis said that I was going off to do the Tour of Poland. I went there but after the third stage I crashed. I finished the stage, but didn't complete the next day because my ankle was too swollen.
CN: Was that your last race of the year, then?
NR: Yes, my ankle was at me quite a bit. It's better now; today was actually my first spin back on the bike. I did two hours on the mountain bike.
CN: So what is your plan for the winter?
NR: Well, I'm going to start back on the first week of November. I usually start the first week in December but because I finished a month earlier, I'll start back a month earlier as well. The plan is not to overdo it, just to ride and keep the weight down. I want to be competitive from the start of the season next year. I should be doing the Giro or the Vuelta; the team said I would be doing a big Tour, and I doubt it will be the Tour de France. I should be doing one of the other two.
I'm happy with that - doing a three week tour will be my big goal for 2006. Once I know which one I'll be doing, I'll focus my preparation on that goal. I want to be very competitive and finish it.
CN: I guess you'll also be trying to get a win next year?
NR: I would like to. Of course, I can't aim for a win in a ProTour race at the moment, but hopefully I can try to get a victory in a French Cup race. This year I did a few and was in the front group…I had those two results plus a couple of top sixteen and top twenty places. I was just missing that little extra. The day I was fourth, I was the one who broke it [the group] the first time, then the second time and then the third time when there was only four of us. But I was just missing that little bit extra I needed.
Also, when there were six of us in the Tour du Finistère, I had to work for Moncoutie. There were twelve of us in the break then he came across. Once he was there I had to ride for him; he went away on the final climb, then I was second in the sprint behind.
CN: You declared for France earlier in the season but have now said you will compete again for Ireland. What is the situation there?
NR: Well, things changed rapidly this year as there was a bit of pressure. The season was coming up fast and I was told things that were not exactly true, as regards it being said that I couldn't have dual nationality. So I precipitated my choice and went for the easy option - trying to keep things simple, as the season was coming up so quickly. Then, as the year went by, I realised that in many of the races - the International races - I was still Irish on the results sheets. So I saw that I was mistaken. I could have continued to race for Ireland. In the end, I checked around to see what the full story was. I realised that I had the opportunity to be able to change back, so once I was sure I could, I made the decision to go back for Ireland.
CN: What did redeclaring for Ireland involve?
NR: Well, it is partly thanks to Pat McQuaid, who found things out for me. Also there was input from the UCI, the French federation and, of course the Irish federation, for wanting me back. I also have to thank Miceal Concannon [Cycling Ireland president] and Frank Campbell for their support. They helped me too.
I'm happy to be back. Even though I am French as well, I was always proud to be Irish. I have two passports but now have an Irish racing licence. That's definite now.
CN: So, do you feel this will make it easier to get onto teams in the future; for the Olympics and world championships?
NR: Maybe, or maybe not. There are good riders in Ireland as well and the country will have less places available than France for some events. There will be riders going for those slots as well so it's not going to be much easier.
The advantage is more that there is a big family feeling…we all know each other and grew up racing together. I found that it was easier to work together in that situation. Of course, if it ultimately does end up being to go to the worlds or to the Olympics as a result, that will be good too!
CN: So what's the plan now?
NR: Well, I'll go to Spain in a few weeks time so I'll start down there and go with my girlfriend to one of my dad's training camps. I will start my training down there, taking it easy, and build from that towards 2006.