Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo), hot off overall victory at the Route du Sud, advises fans to buckle up for what he says should be an epic battle for the maillot jaune.
Roche said teammate Alberto Contador is “back at his best,” and will take the battle to defending champion Chris Froome (Sky) at the Tour de France.
“Alberto is definitely ready, and he’s back to the best level he’s been at for a long time, and Froome is also at a top level. It’s going to be an epic battle,” Roche told VeloNews via telephone. “To have the sport’s top two riders, at their very best, backed by two very good teams, I think it’s going to be a very exciting Tour.”
Roche, 29, had a front-row seat at Contador’s never-say-die battle in last year’s Tour, when the Spaniard was clearly not at Froome’s level, but fought all the way to the final mountain stage.
So far this year, it’s been Contador who carries momentum into the Tour. Roche, who is expected to be part of Tinkoff-Saxo’s Tour squad, said Contador has a good chance of kprevailing this time around.
“Alberto is someone who has such mental strength. He just loves attacking. He’s is someone who will take a risk to go for the victory,” Roche said. “Sky likes to set a steady tempo, so it will be very interesting. There is such a difference in style between Froome and Contador. I am convinced it’s going to be a great Tour, with a lot of attacks.”
Winning helps motivation
The Irishman is expected to return for what will be his sixth Tour start. During his stint with Ag2r, he rode as a protected rider, notching a career-best 12th in 2012. With his move to Tinkoff-Saxo last year, Roche knew he would be working for Contador.
Roche has plenty of other chances to shine, something that helped persuade him to join the team managed by Bjarne Riis.
Last year, he won his first career grand tour stage and wore the leader’s jersey at the Vuelta a España before finishing a career-best fifth overall.
This year, he raced the Giro d’Italia, in large part because it started in his native Ireland, and came off the Italian tour in good shape for the Tour.
He proved he’s up to the task of riding to help Contador take on Froome by winning a stage and the overall at the Route de Sud in France last weekend.
“I’ve had a few close calls, but this is the first time I’ve won a GC in my career,” Roche said. “I was always a GC rider, without a GC win. To get this win is a bonus, but after the first stage, I knew I was in good shape.”
After the Giro, Roche stayed focused on the larger goal of preparing for the Tour, and recovered and trained at altitude in Livigno, Italy.
“I’ve had so many second places, and top-fives in GC, that a few seconds here, a few seconds there, and I could have changed a few of those second places into wins,” he said. “To finally get a win, it feels great, that all this work and sacrifice is worth it. It’s just unbelievable the difference between first and second, third, or fifth. … There is so much more prestige that comes with the win.”
Typically, Roche raced the Tour and Vuelta, but this year, with the Giro starting in Belfast, he switched up his program. After the Tour, he plans on staying busy, perhaps racing at the Tour of England and the U.S. Pro Challenge in Colorado.
For now, it’s all for the Tour, with hopes of carrying Contador in yellow all the way to Paris.
“I am ready to do my job at the Tour,” Roche said. “Froome looks strong, but we will see a stronger Alberto, and our team is also very strong. I think Alberto has a good chance of beating Froome.”
Passionate about the Tour
For Roche, who comes from a rich cycling pedigree, the Tour de France remains unique.
“I am passionate about racing, and I get excited about every race, but the Tour is something special,” Roche said. “Every year, when we go to the Tour presentation in Paris [in October], you see the video clip, all the top pros are there, with the music, and the route, it gives me goose bumps.”
He was a young boy when his father, Stephen Roche, was winding down his professional career.
For Roche, the Tour was the ultimate goal.
“The Tour is always what I dreamed about,” he said. “There is always something special about the Tour. There is so much going on every stage. It’s a roller coaster. When you make it to Paris, you have a great sense of satisfaction and achievement. When you come out of the tunnel and ride onto the Champs-Élysées, it’s an amazing feeling. It’s why I came to cycling.
“The Tour is worth getting excited about. I am still like a kid. Every time I go to the Tour, I know it’s something special.”
If Roche and Tinkoff-Saxo have their way, they’re hoping to ride out of that tunnel and onto the Champs-Élysées with Contador decked out in yellow.