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The 1987 Giro d’Italia winner Stephen Roche has reacted strongly to a recent story which made headlines in the Irish Independent. The 54 year old has described a piece based on quotes attributed to him as scandalous and tabloid journalism, claiming that the sentiment of what he said was twisted in order to make a sensational story.
In the piece, Roche is quoted as saying that his nephew Dan Martin had switched from British to Irish citizenship simply to advance his cycling career, and that he had little previous link to the country. He also appeared to criticise Martin’s father Neil Martin, who is married to Roche’s sister Maria.
According to the article, Roche said that tensions between them first detailed last year in the Independent were due to a what he called a chip on Martin’s shoulder.
Cycling Tips contacted Roche in the run up to the Giro d’Italia starting in Belfast and asked him to comment on the story. He made clear that he disagreed with the angle taken. “To be honest with you, it is scandalous. My words were taken totally out of context,” he said.
“When I said that it suited Dan to be Irish, I said it in a very jovial conversation. I said that Dan got an Irish licence to race in Ireland for different reasons. Dan can of course thank Ireland because Ireland gave Dan a great chance. But there was nothing bad about it.
“For me, I was basically highlighting the fact that if that hadn’t happened, maybe Dan wouldn’t be where he was today. At the same time, if I hadn’t met [his first mentor] Steve Flynn, I wouldn’t be where I was today. I meant it in a very, very simple way…there was nothing bad about it, nothing sarcastic about it.”
Roche said that when the piece was published he immediately moved to defuse any possible complications. “The first thing I did when I heard about it was I rang Dan straight away. Dan definitely agreed; he knows me. Even though we don’t have daily contact, we don’t have dinner ever Sunday, we still have contact.
“Dan knows that I wouldn’t be talking about him riding for Ireland it in a bad way. I never said it in the context hat he is lucky that he got an Irish passport and he wouldn’t be where he is otherwise.
“For me, I understand that if the journalist is looking for the bad side of it, he can pull the bad side out of it. But it wasn’t at all meant – at all – at all [said with a raised voice for emphasis] even a hint of it being bad.”
Cycling Tips also contacted Martin for his own reaction. He too played down the story. “I didn’t read anything into at all,” he stated. “I know there is no bad feeling between me, Stephen, Nico [Nicolas Roche], anybody. We are close…we are not the closest family in the world, but there really is no problem at all. Reading these so-called interviews, it didn’t mean anything to me whatsoever.
“Stephen called me almost straight away and he was obviously upset…what he said he was obviously taken out of context. There are no problems at all between us. I understood what he was trying to say and I can imagine the context that he said it in. But unless you know him, know the way he sometimes phrases things, you could completely misunderstand it.
“At the end of the day, people can write whatever they want in the press. But at the end of the day, I and my family know the truth, know what our relationship actually is. That is what matters to me.”
Roche said that he was concerned that the story could have had negative repercussions on the Giro d’Italia start in Ireland.
“I think it is very sad. A lot of things are all being done at the moment for the Giro in order to help the country. We are showing how friendly the country is, and that we are delighted to have Dan and Nicolas [Roche, his son] there in the race. They are there to fight for the honours but to stir the shit – excuse the expression – like that is very sad.”
The Giro d’Italia will begin in Belfast on Friday with a team time trial. Both Martin and Nicolas Roche will be present on the start list, as will fellow Irishman Philip Deignan.