This has been far from a straightforward year for Nicolas Roche. A heavy racing and training schedule early in the year coupled with personal issues off the bike culminated with withdrawal in the Giro d’Italia in May.
Fresh off the back of a fine fifth place at the Tour of Norway and his participation in the upcoming Vuelta España secured, he is now keen to turn a corner in one of his most challenging seasons.
Roche admits his preparation for this season and especially the Giro d’Italia had been somewhat different to previous years.
Having been brought up multi-lingual in a French/English speaking environment Roche usually bases himself in the sunny climes of Monaco for the majority of the year.
However, this year he took the decision to spend more time back on Irish roads.
“I was training on the same kind of roads (abroad) for the past five or six years and I thought it would be good to make the most of the hard Wicklow mountains while also spending a bit of time with the family at home,” he said of his Giro d’Italia preparation.
Family is important to Roche and keeping in touch with his Irish roots is a top priority. (The interview is stopped temporarily when he gets a phone call from his Grandmother in Dublin who rings to wish him well in his upcoming race.)
“My family is based in Dundrum so that is my base whenever I get back. I have lived in many places over the years — France, Italy, Spain — but Ireland will always be home.”
Despite thriving in warm conditions, he saw an advantage of preparing on the rough roads and colder weather in Ireland.
“Over the years, I have always struggled with the cold. Not that I couldn’t handle it but just muscularly I find it hard to perform at my best when it’s cold. When it’s extremely hot is when I go the best — it’s a physiological thing. So instead of going to a warmer climate to train I thought it would be a good idea to train and get used to doing high-intensity efforts in harsh conditions.”
While Roche was clocking between 20 and 30 hours a weeks in the saddle, there were other issues to deal with when he stepped off the bike.
Emotional stress can have an enormous impact on performance and Roche is no different. Just before the Giro, Roche spoke publicly of his brother Florian’s battle with leukaemia.
“It’s really tough to see him sick again and it puts things like cycling for a living into perspective. This is just sport.”.
The Giro was a big disappointment for Roche and he eventually abandoned mid-way through stage 15.
“I just wasn’t feeling good on the bike and the sensations were getting worse and worse to the point where I wasn’t able to continue. I was disappointed to withdraw, particularly as it was the first time I have ever abandoned a Grand Tour in the 19 that I have done. Even when I had a hard crash in the 2015 Vuelta, I kept going and even won a stage.”
The day after his withdrawal from the Giro he was straight on a plane to France to visit his eighteen year old brother in hospital.
After some time off the bike, Roche returned to compete in the Irish national championships in Sligo where he finished sixth. He would skip the Tour de France in order to prepare for the Vuelta España, a race where he has excelled in the past. However, selection for the three week Grand Tour was far from a certainty.
Last week things finally clicked for Roche at the Arctic Race of Norway. The harsh weather training seemed to pay off as a rejuvenated Roche lit up the race, attacking at every opportunity and eventually finishing fifth. This performance was enough for the BMC team to give him a place in the team for the Vuelta.
“I’m looking forward to racing at the Vuelta again. This will be my eighth edition of the race and I always enjoy racing it,” said Roche after his participation announcement.
He will go into the Vuelta to support Aussie Richie Porte in the mountains. Porte, who abandoned the Tour de France after suffering a fractured collarbone, will go in as one of the favourites for the overall win. However, having previously won two stages in 2013 and 2015, the Dubliner knows if his form is good he can go for solo glory.
“I have a lot of good memories from this race and I have always gone well here. I’ll be supporting Richie, but I won’t waste any opportunities if they come my way.”