Roche: Ireland team needs to be clever at Worlds

Dan Martin in Ponferrada after seventh place at Vuelta

For Fabian Cancellara, it’s a new phenomenon, but for Ireland, it’s a familiar predicament. The curious scoring system used to assign places for the World Championships road race has left the Swiss with a reduced team of three riders in Ponferrada on Sunday, but for Ireland’s trio of Nicolas Roche, Dan Martin and Philip Deignan, it’s simply business as usual. As ever, the tactical cloth will be cut accordingly.

“It’s the Worlds, it’s always kind of an open race. We just have to try and use the other teams as well as we can because we’re not going to get two of the three of us to ride on the front and break it to pieces,” Roche said. “It wouldn’t be useful for any one of us. We’re just going to have to be smart, follow the right moves and use other teams.”

The Irish trio each arrive in Ponferrada after performing impressively in September. Roche was an aggressive presence at the Tour of Britain, Martin recorded his best-ever Grand Tour finish of seventh overall at the Vuelta a España, and in the same race, Deignan rode very prominently in support of Chris Froome. “We don’t have a fixed leader on paper so we need to be clever and find opportunities,” Roche said.

Of the three, Martin seems the best equipped to perform on the Ponferrada circuit, even if the final ascent to Mirador is perhaps not difficult enough for the Irishman. His ability in a small group sprint is often overlooked, however – in the Vuelta, he even had a crack off the bunch sprint into the Cordoba won by John Degenkolb. On the other hand, the rain forecast for Sunday afternoon will not be to his liking.

For his part, Roche draws hope from the likelihood that Sunday’s race will be a frenetic one, with Davide Cassani’s Italy among the nations likely to be an aggressive presence from the early laps. “I think it will suit me, though it would have to be a fast race rather than stop and go. But we’ll see,” Roche said.

The sinuous nature of the 18.1km Ponferrada circuit also means that it ought to prove difficult for any team to control the peloton. There is scarcely time to recover between the climbs of Conderacion and Mirador, and the sheer amount of descending on the route means that the bunch is liable to be lined out for much of the day.

“It’s basically up one side and down the other, basically single line all the time,” Roche said of the circuit. “I think if you’re out of position it’s going to take you a full lap to get back to the front, so I think it’s going to be an open race. I can’t see everyone waiting for the last lap. I think from already three or four laps, we’ll see a couple of attacks and groups going.”

Though far from the toughest climb to the Worlds has seen in recent years, the ascent to Mirador made the difference in Friday’s under-23 road race, when Sven Erik Bystrom (Norway) soloed clear to victory. It remains to be seen if it proves as decisive at the elite level, although the fast plunge back into Ponferrada offers any escapee a fighting chance of holding off the sprinters.

“It might be useful to ride the little ring on the climb in the middle laps, just to recover,” Roche said. “But the guy who’s going to win it is going to attack in the big ring for sure. And it’s all technical from there, with the corners. It’s going to be super hard to get a chase organised. That’s why I think it’s going to be so attacking.”

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