independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Nicolas Roche: 'If I need to throttle him, he's on my bus'

Sunday, September 23, World Road Race Championship, Valkenburg, 267km

The last time I shared a room with my cousin Dan Martin was at the Olympics in London, where we were woken up the night before the race by the fireworks of the opening ceremony.

Last night our room vibrated around us with the bass-line of the hotel karaoke machine, directly underneath.

As Dan got his earplugs out, I just lay there listening to my iPod before eventually nodding off. In fairness, the music stopped at midnight, so it could have been much worse.

This morning we had a chat with team manager Martin O'Loughlin about our plan for the race. While I was a bit unsure of my legs, having felt pretty lethargic since the Vuelta, Dan said he was feeling pretty good and Donegal man Ronan McLaughlin was given a supporting role for both of us.

We knew we had to stay pretty near the front in the latter half of the race to avoid crashes and splits, and while Ronan -- riding the biggest race of his career -- survived an early spill, he was caught up in a second crash.

Myself and Dan managed to stay upright. There were so many groups going during the race that anything could have happened, and we both tried to go across to moves in the final three laps before making the all-important 40-man split on the penultimate time up the Cauberg climb.

Surrounded by the best riders in the world, we tried to stick together to help each other for the last lap, in the hope that one of us had the legs to get something out of the race, but when Classic specialist Philippe Gilbert of Belgium exploded off the front on the steep section of the climb we were legless.

A half-dozen or so of us hung just a few metres off the back of the group with 1km to go. Daniel Moreno was dangling in front of me as I gritted my teeth and tried to claw my way back but I just didn't have the legs. I just couldn't close the gap. Dan was in the same boat.

We kept riding to the top and finished in a group of six riders for 33rd and 34th. While we mightn't have won any medals, it's been a pretty good week at the Worlds for Cycling Ireland, especially the younger riders.

Not so long ago, the Irish team at the Worlds would have a manager who would also be the mechanic and then have to rub the guys' legs too. But the Irish Sports Council and Cycling Ireland have since invested a lot in the sport and it's beginning to pay off.

This week we had great staff: mechanics, soigneurs and managers, and Ryan Mullen's ninth place in the junior time trial and Sam Bennett's 10th in the U-23 road race is great to see. These guys are beginning to snap at my and Dan's heels, which is great.

It was also nice to have dinner together every night and be able to chat with the youngsters with no barriers between us. I remember being in awe of Mark Scanlon at my first Worlds in Lisbon and it was nice for me to be able to have a talk with the younger riders.

Although my Ag2r team were keen for me to continue racing, today was my last race of the season. I'm just knackered and am going to take a break now before meeting up with my new team for a pre-season training camp in November.

The day I spoke to directeur sportif Bjarne Riis about joining SaxoBank-Tinkoff Bank, he said he wanted to create the world's best team and it looks like he's on his way to doing that, having signed sprinters Matti Breschel and Daniele Benatti and climber Roman Kreuziger since the Vuelta.

The last time I wrote about Benatti was a few years back in my Tour de France diary when he dissed me live on TV after I finished second on a stage. The next day I waited outside his team bus before grabbing him by the throat and pinning him to the side of it.

Laugh

Things have been much better between us since then. Incidents like that seem so big at the time, but over the years you just laugh about it. We're actually talkative now and we had a good few chats in the Vuelta. The good thing is, if I need to throttle him next year, at least he'll be on the same bus.

There will be plenty of strong riders at my new team, including leader Alberto Contador, and it's going to be tough to impose myself there but, on the other hand, it's extra motivation. My place is not guaranteed in any race, so I'm going to have to work hard from day one to earn my spot.

I don't mind having to ride for someone else but, already, I would love to know my 2013 race programme, what races I'm riding. Am I going to do the Giro? The Tour? The Vuelta? Am I going to start in Australia or Algarve?

But for now, I'm heading to the south of France to spend some time with my family and go for a few spins with my little brother Alexis, who has taken up racing this year, before coming home to Ireland on October 6 for the Nicolas Roche Classic charity event in Tayto Park, Ashbourne.

I've been thinking about doing it for a few years and thanks to my uncle Lawrence and friend Phil Finegan it's going ahead this year. It's important to me to be able to spend time and meet the people who have been supporting me over the last few years.

I'll be riding with all of the different groups, from the family spin to the longer-distance event, and you're all more than welcome to come along.

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