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New Sky signing Nicolas Roche has said that he is very satisfied with his condition at this point in time, telling CyclingTips that he is well ahead of where he was at the same time last year and feeling good about his first season with the team.
“Things are good. I’m injury free. Last year I couldn’t train at all at this time of the year due to knee problems, so I’m well ahead of where I was twelve months ago,” he stated.
Roche is currently in Mallorca with the other Sky riders, clocking up training miles there and getting to know the squad and staff. “I have been here a week and there is another week to go,” he said. “It’s been going well.
“Settling in has been quite easy, actually. I have known most of the riders for many years. Even the new riders on the team are riders that I knew and was talkative with. So the integration with the riders has been quite easy. I feel settled in already, so I am quite happy.”
Roche spent several years as one of the leaders of the Ag2r La Mondiale team, clocking up results such as sixth place in the 2010 Vuelta a España and 12th and 14th in the 2012 and 2010 Tours de France. He moved to Tinkoff Saxo in advance of the 2013 season and spent two years there, giving up his own chances to help Alberto Contador and others in the Tour de France.
He was able to ride for himself in last year’s Vuelta a España, netting fifth overall, and also won the first stage race of his career in June 2014 when he took the Route du Sud. However he generally had fewer opportunities than he would have had if he had stayed with his previous team Ag2r La Mondiale.
When Roche moved to Tinkoff Saxo his reasoning behind giving up leadership was to learn from Alberto Contador and to become a better bike rider as a result. When his time with the team was coming to a close some expected that he might have taken back up a more central role elsewhere, but instead he inked a deal with Sky and committed to racing for Chris Froome.
He will do the same kind of work with him as he did with Contador and, therefore, will have to give up his chances in races such as the Tour.
Despite that, he said that he is fine with the choice. “It will be an exciting challenge, with different riders than I was with before,” he said. “It is a different jersey and a different group, but it is a very exciting challenge to be part of the team that is aiming to win the Tour.
“Fingers crossed that everything will go well and I will be working in that programme to give the best support.”
Asked as to when he will get his own chances, he said that nothing definite has been laid out. For example, he hasn’t been told that the team wants him to target Paris-Nice, Tirreno Adriatico or another event.
While his schedule will be made more clear over time, he said he is heading towards the season prepared to grab chances when they arise.
“Rather than someone saying, ‘go for this or go for that,’ I think that it will be more about having opportunities on various stages in stage races. That is how I feel at this point.
“I do think that I’ll probably end up having quite a few openings during the year. When you are strong, the chances are much easier to have than when you are weak. I am pretty sure that opportunities will come and it will be my task to make the most of it.”
“Doing the Tour/Vuelta would be a great programme for me”
Roche said that his racing programme hasn’t been set in stone yet, but he is likely to begin racing in the Ruta del Sol in Spain. That runs from February 18 to 22 and so he consequently has over two months before he will pin on a race number.
In the meantime he’ll continue clocking up training kilometres with his usual training partners and the team. He and the Sky riders will have another two week training camp in January, around which time he’ll likely start picking up the intensity.
Further ahead, he’ll ride the Tour if all goes to plan. He’s hoping to then go to a race which has worked out very well for him in the past, namely the Vuelta a España.
“In the back of my mind I will hopefully be back to a very similar programme to the other years,” he explained. “Nothing is confirmed yet, but doing the Tour/Vuelta would be a great programme for me.
Froome initially said he was considering focussing on the Giro d’Italia, but more recently confirmed that he will indeed focus his season around trying to win another Tour de France.
It remains to be seen if he will then ride the Vuelta a España. If so, Roche may well be required to race for him there.
Otherwise, the Irishman could potentially get a chance to try to improve upon his fifth overall last year.
Right now said that he had no idea what would happen in relation to the hierarchy for the race. “At this moment in December the race programme is quite vague,” he said. “They haven’t figured out who is doing what, really.
“I will focus on these two races and if I am riding GC, good. If not, I am pretty sure there will be an opening at some point.”
Right now he’s more preoccupied with building relationships with his new team and adding to the form and kilometres he has already clocked up.
“I am quite happy with how things have been going this week,” he reiterated. “Like I said, I am injury free for once and I am already much better than some winters.
“I am still feeling the excitement and the buzz of the change and really looking forwarding to getting going in the new season.”