Roche, who won the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and World Championships back in 1987 said of all the races he ever rode, the Tour of Ireland — which was then known as the Nissan Classic — was one of the most special to him.
And he says there’s no reason why it cannot be revived after it was scrapped in 2009 on foot of the recession.
“The Nissans were always very special because no matter what the event was, if you were able to ride at home it was magnificent,” he said.
“That year in 1987 was incredible, coming on the back of my success in the Giro, the Tour and the worlds, and coming home and riding in the Nissan Classic, me, Sean Kelly, Martin Earley and Paul Kimmage were like rock stars.
“There’s no reason why it shouldn’t come back,” continued Roche. “With the way cycling is at the moment there’s a huge interest from all walks of life. Women’s cycling is growing, you have cyclists going out with their kids for a spin, former cyclists are coming back into it, the bike to work scheme has swelled the numbers on the roads; it’s absolutely amazing the number of people who would call themselves cyclists now.”
However, he warned: “We won’t get a national tour if we don’t have the professional lads like Dan [Martin], Sam [Bennett], Nicolas [Roche] and Philip [Deignan] doing well. When they’re doing well it makes it easier to pitch the idea to a sponsor to come on board and have another Tour of Ireland.
“It’s important that anyone coming on board sees these guys performing at the top level. But it’s equally important the sponsor sees the development behind it too. I think when sponsors see these guys become household names it’s a no-brainer for me as regards sponsoring it.”
Speaking of the Giro d’Italia, which gets under way on Friday, Roche (pictured) said the respective bodies have done an incredible job in promoting the race, particularly the authorities in the North.
“They put a lot more money into it and the race is up there for three days, as opposed to one down south.
“When asked had the North done more, he said: “Northern Ireland hasn’t had much events of this size in the past whereas the south has. So maybe there’s a different approach to it.
“But I drove through O’Connell Street a few nights ago along the quays, and I was quite surprised to see all the flags on the Liffey and the buildings are all lit up with pink lights and you see a lot of photographs and banners as well around the place.
“The North is out of this world. Shops, buildings, schools, they’ve done a great job with these little pink bows around the buildings; it’s not a lot but it makes a huge difference if everyone buys into it.
“I was up there recently and everyone was wearing pink, the whole place was done up; pink horses, pink balloons, they’ve really embraced it and done an incredible job. But I think down here we’re doing what needs to be done too.”