Sunday 20 August 2017

Roche desperate to retain his national title ahead of Tour

Roche: “The nationals are a really important event for me but the level of cycling in Ireland has gone up so much in the past few years that any one of 20 riders could win it, so it’s not going to be easy.” Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Roche: “The nationals are a really important event for me but the level of cycling in Ireland has gone up so much in the past few years that any one of 20 riders could win it, so it’s not going to be easy.” Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Gerard Cromwell

WorldTour riders Nicolas Roche, Sam Bennett and Ryan Mullen will be the star attractions when the national road race championships get under way from Wexford County Council Headquarters tomorrow morning at 11.0.

A 140-strong peloton will tackle nine laps of an undulating 19.5km circuit which features Wexford Bridge and the Quay.

Beaten to the time trial crown by Mullen on Thursday night, Roche is back to defend his road title, and the BMC rider is hoping to wear the shamrock jersey of Irish champion when he begins his ninth Tour de France in Dusseldorf next weekend.

"Although it's been great to wear the Irish champion jersey for the past year, I didn't get to ride the Tour de France last year so I'd really love to win on Sunday so I can wear it at the biggest race in the world," Roche said.

"The nationals are a really important event for me but the level of cycling in Ireland has gone up so much in the past few years that any one of 20 riders could win it, so it's not going to be easy."

Having beaten Roche by 15 seconds in Thursday's time trial championship, Mullen will be hoping for a repeat of his 2014 double.

"I wanted that skinsuit back," said the Cannondale rider.

"That was the big goal for the weekend. I'd love to do the double again but most of the field just sits on the WorldTour riders, so it's not anything like a normal race.

"I haven't even looked at the course yet, but I'll definitely give it a crack."

Of the three WorldTour riders, Bora Hansgrohe sprinter Bennett has the best form with two stage wins at the Tour of Slovenia just last week, but the Carrick-On-Suir man knows form has little to do with anything on Irish roads.

"The championships are a lot different to any other race during the season," he said.

"In the pro races you have a full team, you get a chance to warm up in the race itself and ease yourself in, but here, I have no team-mates, it's aggressive, attacking racing all day and you have to be ready from the start.

"Usually, the break goes from the start and if you miss that, it's game over. It's not what I'm used to any more so I'm expecting a very hard race."

Hectic

With Dan Martin (Quickstep) opting out to prepare for the Tour de France and Philip Deignan (Sky) taking a break after a hectic early season, four-time champion Matt Brammeier lines up alongside AquaBlue team-mate Conor Dunne, while Sean Kelly's An Post Chainreaction squad have strength in numbers with former champion Damien Shaw, Conor Henebry, Sean McKenna and U-23 rider Matthew Teggart all down to ride.

Indeed, the U-23 line-up could also provide the winner this year, as it did with Mullen in 2014.

As well as recent Ras stage winner Teggart, US-based Eddie Dunbar (Axeon), Michael O'Loughlin (Wiggins), Mark Downey (CC Etupes), Conn McDunphy (Raleigh) and Alexis Roche (Chambery, brother of Nicolas), riding his first Irish senior title race, are all capable of springing a surprise.

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