independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Nicolas Roche: Joining Contador team a huge new challenge

Although there has been a lot of speculation as to which team I will be riding for next year, I haven't actually told anybody yet, apart from my current team directeur sportif and the boss of team's sponsors, Ag2r.

However, today I'm happy to reveal that, after eight years of racing with French teams, I have decided to head in a new direction and have signed a two-year deal with one of the strongest teams in the world, the Danish registered Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank team, owned by 1996 Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis.

The move was first broached when I met former Australian professional Nick Gates while out training a few months ago and we had a chat over a coffee. He knew that my contract was up with Ag2r La Mondiale at the end of this season and, having recently given up racing to take a job offer as sports director with Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank, Gates said that he'd be interested in having me on the team.

We swapped numbers and shortly after that I found myself speaking to Riis on the phone. Riis is known as a really good, innovative directeur sportif. He's also a great tactician and motivator and those few minutes that we spent talking about the possibility of me joining his team almost gave me goosebumps.

Saxo Bank were the top-ranked team in the world at the end of 2010, but lost some of their big-name riders to the short-lived Leopard Trek set-up in 2011.

Having received new backing from the Russian Tinkoff Bank just before this year's Tour de France, Riis told me that he wants to have the biggest team in the world again next year. He wants to be able to go to races with the most competitive team possible and thinks I will fit into the team perfectly.

For years, my dad has been telling anyone prepared to listen that I need a strong, charismatic directeur sportif who can take me in hand and has the knowledge and years of experience to help me progress, so it's hardly surprising to hear that he thinks I have made a good decision in joining the Danish squad.

Although they have a wide variety of nationalities in the team, the spoken language is English and I'm excited to be going to a team where everything will be different -- from the equipment to the staff and riders.

I know some people will immediately question my choice of teams, given the fact that team leader Alberto Contador is currently banned from competition for a doping violation and Riis himself has admitted to doping in the past.

While the sport's governing body and the various anti-doping bodies are doing more and more to clean up cycling and the holes in the net are closing up, it's hard to name any professional team without doping links to the past, whether it's with a member of staff or a rider.

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I don't really know any of my new team-mates yet apart from maybe Karsten Kroon and Chris Anker Sorensen, but there is another Irish link on the team in first-year pro Christopher Juul Jensen, who was born in and raced for Ireland as a junior before moving back to Denmark with his parents a few years back.

The presence of Contador for the next three years means I will not be going into next year's Tour de France as team leader and, therefore, my personal goals of riding for the GC are going to change and evolve.

Going into the Tour with a chance of winning it, albeit with a team-mate rather than myself, will be a new experience for me. This may give me a bit more freedom to go for stages or, at the very least, will teach me how to defend a yellow jersey at the world's biggest bike race.

It's way too early to talk about my race programme for next year, but I don't think Contador will be riding all three Grand Tours, so that may see me ride one of the other two, the Giro d'Italia or Vuelta a Espana, as team leader. If not, I'm sure I will still get my chance in other races.

One of the things I'm really looking forward to is getting some help with my time-trialling.

Riis told me that he wants me to do some tests on the track this winter so that he can have a look at my positioning and time-trialling skills.

My new boss handled World and 2008 Olympic time trial champion Fabian Cancellara in previous years, so I'm hoping he will help me to finally progress against the clock.

My current team, Ag2r La Mondiale, have been very good about the move. When I told my directeur sportif Vincent Lavenu during the Tour that I had decided not to take them up on their new contract offer, he took it pretty well -- even though he wanted to build a team around me next year.

The big boss of sponsors Ag2r also sent me a message wishing me well.

When my team-mates asked me about the move towards the end of the Tour, I wasn't going to bulls**t the guys who have ridden hard for me over the last couple of years and they have been very good about it.

Tonight I'm riding a criterium in the centre of France and then I'll ride the San Sebastian Classic in Spain on August 14 -- four days before the three- week Vuelta Espana.

After that, the season ends with the World Road Race Championships and the Tour of Lombardy.

Points gained by any rider during the season carry with them if they move teams the next.

In the past, some squads have sidelined their big riders near the end of the season, knowing they wouldn't be with them the following year and that any more points they earned would be going towards another team's score, but Ag2r have let me continue with my programme.

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