Nicolas Roche has no ambitions of calling time on his career despite turning 37 next year. The versatile Irishman heads into the final year of his current deal with Team DSM in 2021 but is keen to race on until he is 40.
This year Roche raced as Sunweb’s road captain and was instrumental in several Tour de France breaks – from which his Sunweb teammates won three stages.
Roche believes that his long career, which has seen him ride as a leader, domestique, and leadout rider has helped provide him with the necessary experience to help the younger riders on Sunweb and he has relished the role of road captain on a team that enjoyed their best season in years.
‘The experience, it’s key. I think that one of the reasons as to why I fit in that role is because I’ve done it,” he told Cyclingnews in a recent interview.
“You know what you expect. When you bring up a sprinter it’s different than if you want to bring up a GC guy. With a sprinter, you do a bit of a sprint with him but with a GC rider, you have to take your time and do it gradually because they hate that change of rhythm.
“So all those little things, I understand how they work because I’ve been in those situations before. It was key, me being a young rider and learning from the bigger riders, like when I was helping to lead out Thor Hushovd for a couple of years in the Giro in 2007 and 2008. Then afterwards, being a team leader myself, and then going to work for bigger team leaders in GC but also in Classics. I think that everything that I’ve learned, I’m trying to think about how I can give that back.”
Despite a depleted 2020 race calendar Roche still managed to rack up 34 race days. The bedrock of his season was based around the Tour de France, and although his year was cut short by illness, the former Team Sky and Tinkoff rider was content with his year.
“I was quite happy with my role of riding aggressively and giving a hand to the younger guys, helping out in the sprint and doing a bit of everything. That was quite challenging and exciting. It worked out really well,” he said.
“I was planned for the Vuelta but unfortunately after the Tour I started to feel pain in my forearm and after my crash in the Tour I had started to get tendonitis in my wrist and forearm and that took me out of the Vuelta and was the end of my season after the Irish championships. Relative speaking it was a good season and a brilliant season for the team. It was a really good season for me as a road captain and I think that took on that role and did well. The young guys delivered and that was great.”
Sunweb has signed Romain Bardet for 2021 but the German-registered team – which is set to race as Team DSM next season after securing new sponsorship – have continued their faith in their young roster. Marc Hirschi and Jai Hindley had standout seasons and although Roche has adapted his racing style, he very much sees himself as an important player within the roster.
“It’s another page that turning in my career. I’ve gone from a helper to someone to a leader, to a helper in GC, and now I’m there and around the young guys. I’m helping them with my knowledge but also on the bike when it comes to things that you just don’t learn in meeting rooms. It’s important to help some of the young guys with some of the small details like positioning and tactics in how to manage a finish.
“It’s quite exciting. Sometimes it a bit difficult for your ego when you’re not in the spotlight anymore and not attacking without thinking but I still get my chances. This year in the Tour I was also in the breakaway three times and I think there’s a great balance for me. I think that there’s a need for that spot on this team and I’m happy to fill that spot and play my part.”
With the racing calendar set to return to something more traditional in 2021, Roche is likely to target Tour de France selection once again.
The Irishman has no ambitions of slowing down just yet and hopes to extend his career beyond his current contract.
“I want to continue. My ultimate goal is to get to 40. When I was 30 I said that I wanted to do a couple more years and it’s getting harder and harder between COVID, team restrictions, rider numbers going down on teams, and it’s getting harder and harder but I’m motivated to train, stay fit and continue for as long as I can. Ideally, I’d like to until the end of 2021 and then two more years, and then a fourth-year after that would be a bonus.”