Sunday 18 March 2018

Roche celebrates 'unbelievable' national double


Nicolas Roche celebrates as he crosses the finishing line to win the National Road Race Championship in Kilcullen. Photo: Stephen McMahon / Sportsfile
Nicolas Roche celebrates as he crosses the finishing line to win the National Road Race Championship in Kilcullen. Photo: Stephen McMahon / Sportsfile

Ger Cromwell

Having taken the national time trial title on Thursday night, Nicolas Roche completed the double yesterday when he soloed clear of the remnants of an eight-man breakaway group to claim the men's road race championship in Kilcullen.

"This victory is something that I really, really wanted for a long time," said the Team Sky rider. "So many times in the past I've tried to get it and it hasn't worked out but it's been an unbelievable few days here."

Roche was part of a lead octet that formed early in the 180km race and also contained four-time winner Matt Brammeier (Dimension Data), defending champion Damien Shaw and his An Post Chain Reaction team-mate Conor McConvey, as well as an U-23 quartet of Daire Feely (Team iTap), Michael O'Loughlin (Wiggins), Mark Downey (VC Toucy) and Eddie Dunbar (Axeon).

Despite a concerted chase from behind, the eight leaders had built up a minute and a half advantage by the 80km mark and continued to work together until around 30km to go, where the first attacks began.

"It was a brilliant break to get into because there were a lot of strong riders, good riders, there and everyone played their part," said Roche.

"We knew the pressure was on behind us all day so nobody messed around. It was probably the best break I've been in at a national championships for a long time."

With Shaw first to try to split the group on the last lap, Feely, Dunbar and Downey went out the back door as Roche bided his time before launching his bid for glory on the final climb with 10km to go.

"When we caught Shaw there were only five of us left but I could just feel him putting on the pressure for his team-mate (McConvey) so I played it a bit safe before the climb and then went at the bottom.

"I knew I had to give it one go, go alone, not look back and just hope to open a gap before the flat bit at the top. After that I knew I could hold my speed with the tailwind."

An initial gap of six seconds grew to over a half a minute and by the time he crossed the finish line 10km later, he had plenty of time to savour his second road race title, while Brammeier took silver ahead of 19-year-old race revelation O'Loughlin, who also claimed the U-23 title.

"Once Nico had gone we were working up and over together to try and bring him back but with 5km to go we realised we weren't going to catch him," said the Carrick-On-Suir based teenager.

"The An Post guys started attacking in the last 3km but I felt quite good and had a bit of momentum going into the last corner so I just kicked as hard as I could.

"It was great to be up there with the WorldTour riders today and I'm really happy with that."

After his grandmother had ushered him over the line by waving the chequered flag in a race promoted by his first club, Orwell Wheelers, Roche was all smiles.

"Everybody was here today," he laughed. "I'd say there was easily 20 of the family here including aunties, uncles and cousins and there were loads of friends on the course too so it was nice to be able to celebrate with them at the finish."

Although he will miss the Tour de France, Roche's first outing in the national champion's jersey will come in just two weeks' time at the Tour of Poland.

"I loved having the jersey in 2009, when I won it last, and it's so important for me to be able to have that shamrock on my back for the biggest races in the world," he said. "I feel like I'm an ambassador for Irish cycling and I can't wait to wear it in the pro peloton now."

Meanwhile, Adam Blythe is the men's British road race champion after beating Mark Cavendish in a sprint finish in Stockton-on-Tees.

The Tinkoff rider passed 2013 winner Cavendish in the last 20 metres to take the national championship jersey.

Irish Independent

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