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Stephen Roche on the 2012 Giro d'Italia

Unlike a lot of his sprint rivals, Mark Cavendish remains in the race

My love, hate feelings towards Mark Cavendish

Stephen Roche
May 21, 2012, 13:34 BST,
May 21, 2012, 14:44 BST

Great sprinter but sometimes his attitude bugs me a little bit

Like everyone else I was amazed to see how Mark Cavendish took his third Giro d'Italia stage win in Cervere on stage 13. He’s clearly got something that no other sprinter has in their armoury.

My feelings for Cavendish vary between love and hate, without being too dramatic about it. He does incredible things on the bike, he pulls off incredible stunts, he’s got fantastic acceleration and gets himself into a great aerodynamic position in sprints. He’s like a bulldog – totally power-packed.

I know that plenty of people have said that he wins a lot because he’s always had a strong lead-out train to set him up, but he’s very often shown that he can win when he doesn’t get such a good lead-out. He can weave his way through the wheels, get into gaps and once he comes off the wheels he’s unmatchable. OK, if he didn’t have a lead-out train he might not win so often, but nevertheless that shouldn’t take away from his ability as a sprinter and his achievements.

As for the man himself, I find him less engaging. When he’s being interviewed he never looks into the camera, he’s always looking away. When he thanks everyone, it always the same story all over again. Sometimes I listen to him and think I’d like to hear something new. But it’s always the same story with him thanking his team-mates and after a while it can sound a little false, even though I am sure that he is totally genuine in what he feels and what he is saying.

So, sometimes his attitude bugs me a little bit, but at the same time he is as he is. All bike champions who reach that level are a little bit special. They have an edge, a steely nature and can be impulsive and say things that can get people’s backs up. I’m sure that if Cavendish was asked to comment on my reactions following key moments in my career he wouldn’t be saying totally positive things either. It is true that it is very easy for me sitting here in my armchair watching from afar to pick holes in his personality, but I would stress that when you look around he is phenomenal – there’s certainly no one else around like him at the moment.

Thinking back to my era, there were guys like Sean Kelly, who was a very spectacular sprinter, and Jean-Paul Van Poppel, who was very quick, and also [Djamolidin] Abdoujaparov, who we called “The Bulldozer”. Once he got to the front he would put his bike down to the left, to the right, at 45° each time. He was incredible on the bike. There was nobody around him because everyone was a little bit afraid of him. But he had huge power. So there always have been great sprinters in every era, but Cavendish is certainly special when compared to most.

Stephen Roche in the pink winner's jersey at the 1987 Giro d'Italia

Stephen Roche: Giro-Tour double is still possible

Stephen Roche
May 13, 2012, 2:47 BST,
May 13, 2012, 3:46 BST

The key is managing your programme between the two races

We’re a few days into the Giro now, but it’s still too early to say which riders are going to emerge as the likely contenders. I know Joaquim Rodríguez is in a good position after Katusha did so well to finish just behind Garmin in the team time trial, but the key to victory in this race is not what happens now but what happens in the final week in the Dolomites. I’ve got no doubt that a lot of riders are holding themselves back until the final week.

At the moment, it’s difficult to pick out who might be the favourites going into the final week. Looking at the start list, Fränk Schleck’s name jumps out. But what was he doing last week? He didn’t even know then that he was going to be riding the Giro, so it’s difficult to know what kind of form he will be in when we’re two weeks into the race. Being called up to the Giro so late in the day could turn out to be very good because he hasn’t had time to worry about the race and he’s also had no media pressure on him.

I’m sure he’s feeling more relaxed than he would do if he had been preparing for this race for some time, and that could work to his benefit. Other than Fränk Schleck, there are not really any other guys who stand out. I know Basso is riding, but he hasn’t really done much so far this year, so it’s hard to see how he might perform. It’s a similar situation with Scarponi. We’ll get some indications over this coming weekend about likely contenders, but the real clues won’t come until the weekend after.

I know there has been some talk recently about whether it is still possible to win the Giro and Tour in the same year. Alberto Contador said the other day that he thought this year’s Giro and Tour would have suited him if he had been targeting the double. I agree with him. I think the double is still possible. One key thing in favour of riders now is that the time gap between the end of the Giro and the start of the Tour is longer now than when I won them both in 1987. Back then the gap was just 18 days, but now it’s a little more than a month.

I think achieving the double depends largely on how you manage yourself in between the Giro and the Tour. If you are targeting the double, I think that you’ve got to forget about the Tour de Suisse or the national championships. I know that a lot of riders come out of the Giro with an eye on the national championships, which come three weeks later, but I don’t think it’s possible to include the Nationals in your programme if you’ve won the Giro and then have your sights set on the Tour. When you come out of the Giro, you’ve got to ease off a bit, then work your way back up, and I don’t think it’s possible to do that for the Nationals and then do it again for the Tour. If you try that you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. You would have to keep putting the training miles in, and I think that would impact on your form when you reached the Tour.

If you do manage your time well between the Giro and the Tour, then the double is certainly possible. I guess one advantage that I had was that when I won the Giro back in 1987, the Irish national championship didn’t really feature on the radar of the leading Irish pros.

I’d love to see riders making an attempt on the double. Miguel Indurain showed on a number of occasions that you can take advantage of a strong ride at the Giro to set yourself up for the Tour. In fact, it could be argued riders who do that are taking pressure off themselves. If you win the Giro, you’re sure to be more relaxed going into the Tour with such a big success behind you, as well as being very motivated.

Roche's win in the 1987 Giro was part of a memorable Triple Crown

Roche: “I’ve been hugely impressed by Taylor Phinney”

Cycling News
May 10, 2012, 15:11 BST,
May 10, 2012, 16:19 BST

Ferrari should have faced a tougher sanction for stage 3 mayhem

The 2012 Giro d'Italia has been a very exciting race so far, which was perhaps to be expected as it’s such an open race this year. There has been an amazing amount of crashes, which is always understandable at the start of a Grand Tour when all the riders are quite nervous. I think the nerves increase when major tours start abroad, because the surroundings are a unfamiliar and the crowds and sense of expectation are much bigger than you would normally see if the race was starting in Italy.

Denmark certainly gave the race a great send-off. Everyone was clearly determined to savour the experience of having the Giro there for the first time and the race organisers wanted to do all they could to show off the race. It was a great way of paying tribute to guys like Bjarne Riis and Thor Hushovd, as well as some of the past greats of Scandinavian racing such as Gosta Pettersson and Rolf Sørsensen.

I think it’s important that races like the Tour de France and the Giro do share themselves around, that they go to other countries. Events have to become global in the modern cycling world to reflect the globalisation of the sport. The purists might not be happy with the Giro starting in Denmark or the Tour starting in Belgium, but I think that is the way that it has to be in order to further the reach and popularity of the sport.

I was very pleased to see Taylor Phinney win the prologue. I rode with his dad, Davis. In fact, he took a stage in the 1987 Tour that I went on to win. It’s amazed me how much class and talent Taylor has. He speaks very well about the sport as well, and it’s clear that he’s very focused and has thought a lot about what he wants to achieve. Although it was disappointing to see him crash on stage three, it was good to see him getting on with the job of defending maglia rosa. Incidents like that are all part of cycling and he brushed himself off and got on with the job. He seems very mature for his age, and I’ve hugely impressed with how he’s conducted himself.

I’ve still not seen the incident involving Roberto Ferrari in the bunch sprint on stage three, but from what I’ve read he made a very sudden and significant move across the road, and caused real mayhem by doing that. I know that they punished him by relegating him to last place on the stage, but I honestly think that in the wake of an incident like that there is a case for a much harsher punishment.

If someone moves off their line a bit in a sprint, I think it’s OK. You can see that they’ve made a bit of mistake. But if a guy goes off his line as much as Ferrari did I think there should be a tougher sanction – he should have been thrown off the race. Yes, we can all get a bit carried away in the final few hundred metres and can go a metre or two off our line, but he went way off it. I know he was sorry about what he did, but he could have put some of the guys on the plane home before the race had really got going. Cavendish and Phinney’s Giro could have been over, and Phinney is certainly still paying the price for the crash today.

Stephen Roche on the 2012 Giro d'Italia

In 1987, Stephen Roche won the Giro d'Italia on his way to a famous Triple Crown. Later that year he added the Tour de France and the Road World Championships in what one of the most dominant seasons of the last 30 years. The Irishman always says things how he sees them and is notoriously outspoken on the sport's biggest issues. The Giro d'Italia is a race very close to his heart, and here he shares his thoughts on the 2012 renewal.