Cousins Roche and Martin share Grand ambitions for 2014 after stellar seasons
On a brief trip home for Cycling Ireland's 25th anniversary awards dinner at the weekend, Nicolas Roche and Dan Martin dropped into the Croke Park Hotel to pick up an Irish Independent Sports Star of the Week award each for their respective stage victories at the Vuelta a Espana and Tour de France earlier in the year.
Although the cycling cousins have both been in the pro peloton for years, the duo admitted yesterday that they don't get too much time to talk during races as they spent the morning reminiscing on a successful season for both of them.
"We ride for different teams and both of us have different jobs to do, so we can't really sit down the back of the bunch and have a chat during a big race," says Roche. "Sometimes we stay in the same hotels so we see each other at dinner and stuff but even that is rare. This year for example, the one day on the Vuelta that our teams were in the same hotel, Dan crashed and ended up in hospital so I didn't get to see him. But we do text and phone each other and keep in contact."
Having ended a stellar season which also included overall victories in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Catalunya, Martin ended the season ranked No 6 in the world but admits that his older cousin almost put him off cycling for life as a youngster.
"There was one summer when we spent quite a bit of time together in Dublin," says Martin. "One of the strongest memories I have is of being on the back of a tandem with him and being absolutely s**t scared. I mean scared of my life."
"We had a back garden with a bit of a hill on it..." says Roche as a wide grin appears on his face. "I think I was about 13, so Dan would have been about 11 and I knew he was afraid, so I made the most of it."
Martin laughs. "I think we're both control freaks, but I got stuck on the back. To have him steering was really scary for me. He scarred me forever. I've never been on a tandem since!"
While both riders are enjoying a post-season break from training, the Giro d'Italia start in Belfast next May is already dominating their thoughts, with Martin already pencilled in as leader of his Garmin Sharp team for the three-week tour.
"I'm definitely going to be there and we'll have a pretty strong team," says Martin. "At the moment, I'm off the bike for quite a while. If I feel like riding when I go home to Girona, I'll go out and turn the pedals but because of the Giro, I'm going to start racing later next year. I'll be team leader at the Giro but I don't know what type of team we'll be sending. To have a strong team time-trial squad for the opening day in Belfast would be incredible but you have to look at the bigger picture too.
"We need some climbers for the later stages to help me too. To go into a Grand Tour with a strong team behind me will be a new experience. A lot of things are going to have to go my way to get a good result at the Giro but I go into every race to try and get a result."
For Roche, riding the Giro would be a departure from his Tour de France/Vuelta programme of recent years but he says the lure of racing in Ireland has sucked him in.
"I put my hand up to ride the Giro as soon as I heard it was coming to Ireland," he says. "But the team said it was time for me to go and take a break and that they'd have a think about it over the next few weeks. My priority would be to ride the Giro and, hopefully, the Tour after that. I'll know in about a month's time whether it's going to happen or not."
In recent years, the popular trend has been to ride either the Giro and the Vuelta or the Tour de France and the Vuelta, with the Giro/Tour double deemed too difficult due to the recovery involved in between races. Roche, however, is confident that he can still be competitive in July.
"This will be the sixth year in a row that I've ridden two Grand Tours so it's not something new to me. I've been capable of riding two Grand Tours and finishing them well. I actually think that if I finish the Giro on a strong note that I could recover and be as strong, or even stronger, for the Tour de France," he said.
"At the moment, I'm not worried about doing two Grand Tours. It's more about getting the Giro in my head and getting set for it. You never know, I could do the Giro, Tour and Vuelta but the season is only finished so it's easy to talk about what you could do in 2014, there are lots of possibilities."
So could the cousins team up and have a go at the national time trial championships as a tandem pairing next June?
"That'd be interesting actually," says Roche as they both look at each other.
"We'd be pretty quick. We could go for the record!" laughs Martin before both riders declare in unison: "I'm steering!"