Ireland’s Nicolas Roche, son of Stephen, the last rider to win cycling’s triple crown, waits patiently for the podium announcer to call his French AG2R La Mondiale team up to the GP Lugano presentation podium. It’s 10:50 in the morning on the shores of Lake Lugano, one day after his third place in GP Insubria.
His patience is paying off, though. Over the past five years as a professional, he has built up a name for himself and is not simply known as the son of Stephen. He has steadily worked his way through the ranks, riding the Giro d’Italia in 2007, the Vuelta a Espa¤a in 2008 and last year, the Tour de France. All the while, always riding for French teams: Cofidis, Crdit Agricole and since 2009, AG2R.
This year is different, though.
“The team had given me a lot of trust for this year,” he explained. “I was able to ride [Etoile de] Bessges without too much pressure as preparation for Paris-Nice. It was the first time in my career I was told to go to a race just to get preparation.
“They [the team] are not putting too much pressure on me, whereas I had to do each race at 100 percent last year to be able to go onto the next one. Now, it is more planned, but it also means I have more pressure for the actual day of the planned race.”
Roche placed third at the GP Insubria in Pieve Vergonte, Italy, Saturday. He helped form the winning move over the last climb with World Champion Cadel Evans and arrived to battle for the win, just losing out to Frenchman Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) on the uphill finish.
The GP Lugano on day later in Switzerland turned out to be a mess for the organizers due to heavy rains and a car that had made its way onto the course. Roche was one of many who abandoned early. Still, it was mission accomplished with only seven days until Paris-Nice.
Roche has made the move to Varese, Italy
“These two races are so close to my home in Varese [Italy] that I want to go good in them just for the motivation, just to prove that my condition is there and have a little more self confidence before Paris-Nice. It will be such a hard race.”
The only sour note for the weekend was losing teammate Rinaldo Nocentini, who had also been targeting Paris-Nice. Nocentini’s crash and broken leg will put him out for at least half the year and shift more pressure on the shoulders of Roche.
“Nocentini was to be our leader for Paris-Nice; he wanted to be on the podium there. Now, we will have to change the strategy,” said Roche.
“We also have Tadej Valjavec, who has shown his condition is coming on well. Tadej has a bit more experience than I do, and we can try to work together. Paris-Nice is one of the most difficult races of the year and if you are not 100 percent then it is a very difficult race to do. [Alberto] Contador and so many others will be racing there.
“Last year, I wanted to race for the overall, but I was just completely out of form. I was going well in the weeks before, at the Tour of Med and Down Under, but when I came back to Europe I was just going down, down, down hill until April. It turned out to be a poor start to the season and I was pretty disappointed.”
He wasn’t shivering, waiting for the podium call, but that is in no thanks to his body weight. He is leaner this year, by three to four kilograms. He’ll start Paris-Nice in Montfort-l’Amaury on Sunday weighing just 69 kilograms. Maybe his weight is due to having an Italian girlfriend cooking for him for the last year and a half at home in Varese.
“Varese has been really good to me. I was moving around, in and out of France and Ireland, Cannes…, but then finally things turned out that I came to Italy, in Varese. It is really different, it is a quieter lifestyle for me and I am really enjoying it and being able to concentrate on the bike.
“I know the roads well. I am usually out there training with Simon Clarke [Team ISD-Neri].”
He smiles when it is suggested that it wasn’t the roads, but love that brought him to Italy.
“It is one of those things you always say that you will never do, but when it happens you actually do it.”