Relief as Nicolas Roche to 'call the shots' for Team Sky in Tour
Nicolas Roche has been announced as part of Team Sky's nine man line-up for the Tour de France, which begins in Utrecht on Sunday.
Despite much speculation about his participation in the event after his name was omitted from a Tour de France team list inadvertently posted to the official squad website last week, Roche will line up as road captain for Sky next week.
The British-based team are hoping to claim a third overall victory in the race with 2013 winner Chris Froome.
Alongside Roche and Froome will be Aussie Richie Porte, Czech climber Leopold Konig, Dutch mountain goat Wout Poels, recently crowned British champion Pete Kennaugh and fellow Britons Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas.
"It's a big relief and an honour to see my name on the Tour team today," said Roche after yesterday's announcement.
"Even though I was on the long list at the start of the year, you're always worried about your place until you get your flight tickets for the Tour start."
While some squads announce their Tour team weeks in advance of the start, Sky were among those who left it until yesterday, just six days before the opening stage, to make their selection.
And the anxious wait for riders couldn't have been helped by the brief but much publicised release of the wrong team on the Team Sky website last week.
"There is so much strength in depth on this team that you could pick any nine riders and they would do a good job at the Tour," admitted Roche.
"I had a few sleepless nights thinking about it but thankfully I've earned a place on the team and I'm really looking forward to it now.
"Even though this is my seventh Tour, I'm still as excited as the first one. The Tour is something really special, something I look forward to every single year, and I'm so excited to be part of the team this year.
"To be going into the race with Chris Froome as our team leader is all the motivation you need to give everything you have for the next three weeks."
With 13 Grand Tours behind him, Roche is the most experienced rider in Sky's line-up and as road captain will be responsible for the decision-making and team tactics on the road.
"Nicolas is one of the most experienced guys in professional cycling," said team boss Dave Brailsford.
"He's a good climber, a strong, punchy rider, and we'll use all of his experience. He knows where to position the team and how to position the team and as road captain he'll be calling the shots."
Sky's leader Chris Froome finished second behind team-mate Bradley Wiggins in 2012 before going on to win the race in 2013.
A crash last year forced an early departure from the race but victory at the recent Criterium du Dauphine suggests Froome is back to his best again, and Roche reckons his team leader will be hard to beat this year.
"Chris is going really well. I think he's ready and I think the whole team is ready. We have a lot of rivals this year in (Vincenzo) Nibali, (Alberto) Contador, (Nairo) Quintana, (Tejay) Van Garderen and others and it's definitely not going to be easy but we're all looking forward to the challenge - and I think he can do it again."
Shortly after Sky's team selection was made, Roche's cousin, Dan Martin, was named as one of three leaders for his Cannondale Garmin team at the Tour.
Martin's inclusion signals his recovery from a crash at Liege-Bastogne-Liege in May that left him with a broken rib and saw him struggle through the Tour of Romandie.
Martin will share team leadership with American Andrew Talansky and Canada's former Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal.
Fewer time trials and more mountains this year give Martin (below) his best chance of a high overall placing and of repeating his stage win of two years ago.
"We have a very talented group of riders and by bringing three top guys, Andrew, Dan and Ryder, we're going to make things very interesting," said team CEO Jonathan Vaughters yesterday.
"These three, and the team as a whole, will work seamlessly and selflessly together to shake things up and create opportunities. You'll see a lot of creativity from us at this Tour."
With Carrick-On-Suir sprinter Sam Bennett also set to make his debut in the race, Ireland will have its biggest contingent in the Tour for 24 years when the race begins on Sunday.
Bennett was only eight months old the last time Ireland had three riders in the Tour; his finishing speed gives him a real chance of glory on his debut.
With four victories in his first year as a pro and another three wins already this season, the youngster will go into the race as co-leader of the Bora Argon 18 team alongside Germany's Dominik Nerz.
While Nerz will be hoping to get some good results in the mountains, Bennett will be battling for stage wins in the early part of the Tour and on the flatter stages where big bunch sprint finishes look most likely.
"After a very successful first half of the season, Sam will make his debut in a Grand Tour," said team manager Ralph Denk. "He is one of the fastest men in the peloton and he deserves to compete with the best sprinters in the biggest race in the world."
Although Bennett was forced to withdraw from his last two pre-Tour races with illness, he has been kept under wraps by his German-backed team and has the potential to repeat Sean Kelly's feat of winning a stage in his maiden Tour.
Indeed, with German sprinter Marcel Kittel not selected for his Giant Alpecin team and Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni of FDJ hurt in a crash last Sunday, Bennett's odds have shortened considerably this week.
Starting on Saturday, you can read Nicolas Roche's exclusive Tour de France diary every day in the Irish Independent.