Nicolas Roche battles against world’s best from Monaco apartment balcony

Nicolas Roche's best finish in one of cycling Grand Tours was fifth place in the Vuelta a Espana in 2013
Irish star Nicolas Roche in virtual cycling action on his Monaco apartment balcony

There really is a first time for everything, but it’s hard to imagine Irish cyclist Nicolas Roche could have predicted that some time in his career he would compete against some of the world’s best riders from his Monaco apartment balcony.

But, thanks to digital technology and home trainers, that’s exactly what he’s been doing, as the world of professional cycling adapts to the current climate.

First came the virtual Tour of Flanders in early April, which featured 13 riders, before the Tour de Suisse or Digital Swiss 5 at the end of the month involving 50 cyclists, where Roche, riding for Team Sunweb, claimed his first virtual victory.

“It’s been a whole new experience,” says an enthusiastic Roche.

“It takes quite some preparation, in terms of logistics. The teams have to send the pro package with the official sponsors etc. In terms of technology, there we 16 different cameras on riders for each race.

Nicolas Roche: I was training like a maniac in the first weeks of lockdown

‘It was a little tight on my balcony’

“I was on the live broadcast on the Sunday, so I had to download all the applications, set up accounts and to set up the camera, I had to move all my furniture inside my apartment, as it was a little tight on my balcony.

“When something is new, you just never know exactly what to expect, with anything – how physically hard it’s going to be, the preparation, the nerves of logging in, of losing connection and all these things.

“I remember when I did my first pre-race test six weeks ago, my legs completely exploded and I thought, wow, I can never do 45 minutes at that speed!

“It’s really incredible what they managed to do though in organising the races and making it work, it was fun! It’s never going to replace a normal race, but in these times, it’s as good as it’s going to get.”

Tour of France start put back to 29 August

There has been mass disruption to the cycling calendar, including the Tour de France, which has already been rescheduled to begin in Nice on 29 August.

However, with French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announcing on Tuesday that no major sporting events can take place until at least September, it casts more doubt over the three-week event.

“No one can say today definitely [that The Tour will go ahead],” admits Roche, son of 1987 Tour winner Stephen Roche.

“I really and extremely hope so. I think it’s so important for the sport that the Tour goes ahead. But not only the Tour, because remember, the Tour de France is only 20 teams and eight riders per team. There’s more than 1000 professionals, there’s 30 or 40 teams [in the sport].

“So, the Tour would be amazing obviously for the top of cycling, but what’s important is that the whole cycling season starts at some point and gives a chance, not only to the big teams and to myself and the other bigger riders, but also to everyone.

“There’s some young people making big sacrifices in order to turn pro and there’s also riders looking to renegotiate contracts – so it’s really important for everyone.”

Nicolas Roche is cheered on by some colourful fans during last year's Vuelta a Espana
Roche in action for Team Sunweb in last year’s Vuelta a Espana

Roche, at 36, still has unfinished Olympic business

If the 36-year-old is to compete in the rescheduled 2021 Tokyo Olympics, it would be his fourth appearance at an Olympic games and Roche reveals he still feels he has some unfinished business.

“In cycling, it’s a little different, as we have a lot of other competitions, so we don’t rely on the Olympics for a living. In some other sports, where Olympics is everything, and people have spent the last four years training and preparing, it must be really difficult for them.

“It’s so hard to push on just one more year, when you’ve already sacrificed so many. Also, to keep your shape, to try and come back into the shape, to replicate your training.

“From a personal perspective, it’s a little different because in cycling, because at the end of the day, we only need a certain amount of months of training to get back to the top level.

“The only thing is one year is different to the other. I’m aging now for example – so 36 is better than 37!

“But, I’ve been in the same condition now for about five or six years, so I can’t see why next year I would go slower, but yet again, I could also age quicker next year.

“I’m still going to fight and try and get my qualification for the Olympics. It’s really important for me to do my fourth Olympics.”

Roche’s best Olympic Road Race performance was 29th in Rio four years ago after 89th and 64th spots in London and Beijing.

“At Rio, I did well, but I could’ve done a lot better, I just had a mechanical problem.

“London was my big disappointment. It wasn’t a course that was suited for me, but I completely had the wrong tactics and I would just like to get a proper go at the Olympics again and get a real result.”

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