MADRID (VN) — Nicolas Roche will trade his Ag2r-La Mondiale jersey for the national kit of Ireland this week for what he hopes will be a chance to salvage a frustrating, injury-plagued 2011 season.
Roche was hoping for a big year, with eyes on a top-10 in the Tour de France after his breakout sixth place in last year’s Vuelta a España.
But a string of minor injuries last fall and in early 2011 got him on the “wrong foot” going into a season loaded with optimism and high expectations. A heavy crash at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June, when he suffered heavy cuts and bruises in a high-speed fall coming down a descent, pushed him even deeper into the hole.
After a disappointing Tour and Vuelta, where he finished 26th and 16th, respectively, Roche is hoping to put in a strong world championships before heading to China and the Italian classics with hopes of rounding out his season on a high note.
VeloNews caught up with Roche near the end of the Vuelta to talk his rough season:
Q. After rough Tour de France, this Vuelta was even more difficult. How have things gone for you in the Spanish tour?
A. It hasn’t been as good as I expected, to be honest. After my crash in the Dauphine, I’ve been trying to come back as strong as possible. I was a bit over-optimistic in the Tour. I insisted and insisted, and then I finally finished completely knackered. I hoped the legs would come better for the Vuelta. I was there, but to be competitive with the top guys, I was always the first team leader to get dropped. I was always sitting around 15th to 20th place. There were some good things, on those mountain-top finishes when I was seventh and eighth, and I had two top-5 finishes. Unfortunately, the Angliru was one of the stages when I was hoping to perform well, but that was the one that killed me. In 2008, it was one of the climbs that revealed me. I was hoping to go as good, but unfortunately, it was the opposite.
Q. How do you judge your 2011 season considering you had that bad crash and things haven’t gone as well as you had hoped?
A. The crash in the Dauphine was a big hit for me. I started off the season on the wrong foot. I had tendonitis in November, so I was three weeks no training. In January, I tore my right quad in a team training camp, so I was out again for three weeks in January. I barely came back in the classics. I crashed in Amstel, I crashed in Fleche. I was having a hard time to come back. Then I came back in top form at the Dauphine. I was probably 100 percent for the first time all season and then on the third or fourth day, I had the biggest crash of my career so far. It was being up and down, chasing form, getting a few results here and there to satisfy the need to keep working hard. Obviously, it was way below my expectations at the start of the year.
Q. How have you handled the adversity? Some people say it can make you a better racer for the future, how have you handled the frustration?
A. I’ve learned a lot this year. I was always in a rush to try to get back. I came back always too soon. I made a mistake when I went to Algarve with only 10 days of training. I was completely out of form in Paris-Nice. The same happened again in the Tour. After the Dauphine, I had to take 10 days off the bike. Then I went to the Tour thinking I could be one of the top-10s in the Tour. I was a bit overly optimistic. It was hard. It’s always easy when you’re pedaling, attacking and getting results. But when you’re pedaling, attacking and not getting results, it’s hard in your head. You learn a lot. Not every year is going to be the same.
Q. Are you staying with Ag2r? The team is giving you the chance to lead for the GC, is that a role you like?
A. I am here for an extra year. It’s true that the team has given me a role that I enjoy. I enjoy taking responsibilities and taking decisions in the briefing, giving ideas about tactics. Maybe on another team, I have to shut up and do what I am told. For now, I am happy how things are.
Q. Do you still believe you can be in the top-10 in the Tour?
A. Definitely. I do think I can make a top-10 in the Tour. I even think I could even be sixth, seventh. I don’t think that top-5 is possible, because I do have quite a bit of work to do still in climbing and time trialing. I do hope over the next few years I can make a top-10 in the Tour.
Q. During this Vuelta, in stage 9 up the Covatilla climb, there was a moment when you and your cousin, Dan Martin (Garmin-Cervelo), were both on the attack, does that happen very often?
A. It would have been the same if it were anyone else. It was just luck or circumstance of the race that we were there together. I wanted
to go on that steep bit. Then Dan went, and that’s the time I wanted to go. It wasn’t a thing of going together as cousins. That’s something the press was thinking.
Q. How will you finish up the season?
A. I am doing worlds, China and Lombardia. It will be a busy end of season. I am hoping to get one more strong result to carry me into the off-season. It would be good for the head and for the motivation.