Nicolas Roche (Saxo-TInkoff) could not have put it better himself when the Irishman described his first Grand Tour stage win, at 29, as “really liberating.” After so many near misses a big win in a Grand Tour had been a long time coming, but triumphing ahead of all the big Vuelta favourites on the race’s first major mountain climb in the Alto do Monte da Groba was a great way to do so.
“This is really liberating for me, I’ve only won eight races in my career but I’ve had so many second places,” Roche, who switched to Saxo-Tinkoff this season after a long spell with Ag2R, and whose last win was a stage in theTour of Beijing 2011, said afterwards.
“Roche is ‘the rider who’s always in the front but never able to win’. I’m over the moon.”
Asked if the Vuelta had always been a target for him, Roche said “We set my program last November and my goal was to be a team-mate [for Alberto Contador] in the Tour."
“I had a very specific role there, whilst [Roman] Kreuziger and Michael [Rogers] were working there for Alberto high mountains, I was at the Tour for semi mountainous stages.”
“But I also had the Vuelta as a clear goal, it has been my main goal of the autumn for the last five years, some years better than others, and I’ve had many a top five place on stages and even a second place. So just to be able to win is very important for me.”
Asked how Saxo-Tinkoff would handle the overall classification with Roman Kreuziger going for the GC as well, Roche responded, “we’ve got a very strong team,, I hope that Roman will now continue to be in good condition, Rafa Majka is also very strong in the high mountains and every day things can change."
Team co-sponsor Oleg Tinkoff’s criticisms on Twitter of Alberto Contador are common knowledge, but Roche made a strong defence of the Spaniard.
“I know that Alberto Contador has done a Tour at 200 percent, not 100 percent, every day asking how he could win.”
“Every morning Alberto would sit down at the breakfast table and ask how it was possible to win, even if Froome was stronger. Alberto was so strong and we were there to help Alberto. We didn’t win but at least we have the satisfaction that everybody did the Tour at a maximum level. If Tinkoff thinks something like that, it’s pretty sad.”
Now second overall, just eight seconds back on Nibali, Roche also has a fair number of jerseys to defend. He is currently leading in the points competition, the King of the Mountains and the ‘combined’ classification, awarded to the best-placed rider all-round. However, he understandably wanted to savour the flavour of a Grand Tour win rather than look too far ahead.
“Getting a win here after coming so close so often is so important. I might finish fourth, fifth or sixth overall in Madrid, but this is what counts for now.”