THE CHANCE TO work under Bjarne Riis was a decisive factor in Nicolas Roche’s move to SaxoBank Tinkoff, according to the cyclist’s father Stephen.
After four seasons in the colours of AG2R-La Mondiale, Roche left at the end of last season to pursue a fresh start alongside former Tour de France champion Alberto Contador and team manager Riis.
Winner of the Tour de France in 1996, Riis subsequently admitted to the use of performance enhancing drugs as a rider. His management record has also been overshadowed a string of doping allegations and he was in the spotlight again this week when Tyler Hamilton testified under oath that the Dane had introduced him to Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the centre of the Operation Puerto trial in Spain.
Times have changed and cycling has moved on, Roche Sr insists, and Riis is the man to bring the best out of his son and teach him how to win.
“When we sat down and spoke about it and put all the teams out on the table, for me, I always said the best guy to go with was Riis despite the financial difference with any other teams,” Roche said in Dublin this week.
“I felt that Nicolas is someone that speaks the same language as himself. That is very fine tuned. At AG2R, Nicolas was basically in another world. They were there to do well; Nicolas was there to win.
With SaxoBank, the thing is that Riis knows how to win and can bring Nicolas from being a competitor to being a winner. That’s what Nicolas needs now.
The new season has already started on a positive note with a fifth-place finish for Roche at the Tour of the Mediterranean earlier this month followed by 11th overall at the two-day Tour du Haut Var. Though the move to SaxoBank will likely spell the end for his General Classification ambitions in the Grand Tours, it should open doors for a high-profile stage win and better opportunities in the one-day classics.
Asked if he had any concerns about his son working with Riis, Roche is confident that there is nothing to worry about.
“I’ve educated Nicolas in what’s good and what’s bad, the same as any parent educates their kids. I’m confident end of story that no matter what could happen, Nicolas would never go astray.
Riis has a reputation from the past as well but haven’t a lot of guys got reputations? They have to come in to the new rule book now and say this is in, this is out and if I want to stay in, this is the way it has got to go.
No matter what happens on Riis’s team, he’s going to be targeted. I think times have changed as well. I’m not saying what was or wasn’t done before. I think times have changed.
He added: “When I talk about Riis, I talk about the tactician, the technician. He brought Nicolas to Italy a few weeks ago for his time-trialling. He was there for hours on the track with a stopwatch in his hand and his camcorder, filming Nicolas going around.
“Brought him to a wind tunnel, put him in the wind tunnel, took all the data out of the wind tunnel, put him on a set of rollers; watched the film, modified this, modified that; back in the wind tunnel, back on the rollers, back on the bike on the track again. By Monday he had gained 25 watts. Not many team managers go to that extent.
“These guys have given Nicolas confidence. They’re guys who speak the same language, who can help him win, and help him be a better competitor.”