JACA, Spain (VN) — Nicolas Roche is relishing this Vuelta a España, where he can race unbridled and ride more on instinct and guts, instead of trying to follow wheels a la the Tour de France.
For the 28-year-old, the Vuelta is almost a free ride. With his big move next season to Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank, this is Roche’s last chance to go all-out in what will be the end of an important chapter of his career as he begins a new one next season.
Quietly poised eighth overall going into Thursday’s sixth stage, Roche told VeloNews he’s going to enjoy this Vuelta by attacking every chance he gets.
“It’s a lot of pain but I am enjoying it. At the Tour, the last couple of years, I’ve been riding more conservative to try to stay close for the top 10. Now I am attacking more and that’s the way I like to race, always with passion,” Roche said.
“At the Tour, I am not quite as strong as the top guys. I am always a bit afraid to take a risk and I am always fighting for the 10th, 12th, 14th place. Here at the Vuelta, if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, I try again the next day.”
Over the past four years, Roche has slowly developed into a solid grand-tour rider, posting his best-ever finish in this year’s Tour with 12th overall.
The son of cycling legend Stephen Roche, he’s always done well at the Vuelta. In fact, his best grand-tour result and only top-10 finish came in 2010, when he climbed to seventh overall.
This year, he’s racing without pressure and is anxious to see just how far he can go. That means taking risks and attacking when he feels like he can without worrying too much about the consequences.
“I am eighth on GC. I am trying to progress in the hills and go for stages,” he said. “I am riding every day as it comes. If I can hang all the way with GC, I will be happy with that. Every year I have progressed because I go deep every single day. I do not want to change my habits.”
The main reason for Roche’s sense of freedom is his move next season to Saxo-Tinkoff, where he will be switching roles.
Since turning pro in 2005, Roche has always ridden for French teams, first with Cofidis and then Crédit Agricole before joining Ag2r in 2009 as one of the team’s leaders.
Next season, he will be riding in support of Spanish captain Alberto Contador at the Tour. It’s a major change in direction for Roche, but he says he’s ready for a change after riding his entire pro career with French teams.
“It’s an exciting move to Saxo Bank,” he said. “It’s going to be a very different approach for me for the Tour. I won’t be going there to ride my top-10, but I will be going there to help Contador win.”
Roche was approached by Saxo Bank earlier this season to gauge his interest in joining the Denmark-registered squad, captained by Contador and led by Riis.
Roche said a long conversation with Bjarne Riis made him realize he could fit in well with “Bjarne’s Army.”
“When I talked with Bjarne, I had a better feeling and I was really happy that we got the deal done,” he said. “I had a great talk with Bjarne Riis. He really convinced me and I was excited and ready to join them.”
He’s also hopeful he will get chances to shine in other races. Roche typically races two grand tours in one season, so he said he will only gain experience and learn from racing with Contador and then have his own freedom later in the season.
“I am excited, it’s a new adventure. It’s a new experience. There are loads of teams. There are good and bad on every team,” he said. “Hopefully, I will get my chances at some stage as well.”
Roche has been making consistent progress, but he admits he’s not at the same level as riders such as Contador and Chris Froome (Sky).
On Tuesday, Roche tested his mettle against Froome and Contador, following them when they surged clear on the climbing finale at Valdezcaray. Roche later plowed on alone and climbed into the top 10 overall.
“Froome and Contador are flying right now,” he said. “When they went (Tuesday), I was on Froome’s wheel. I thought, ‘Okay, I will go and when I blow, I blow.’ I realize I really miss that kick that they have. It was really obvious at the Tour this year.
“When it’s a steady tempo, I can be there, but when the first attacks go, I was the first one to drop. The later the attack was, the later I was getting dropped. I have to work on that. The only way is to go with them when they try.”
This Vuelta will be Roche’s last chance to square off against Contador. And he wants to see how far he can go.