Nicolas Roche will ride for Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank for the next two seasons after agreeing terms with Bjarne Riis’ team. The Irishman, who has raced for Ag2r-La Mondiale since 2009, announced the news in a column in the Irish Independent on Wednesday.
“I’m happy to reveal that, after eight years of racing with French teams, I have decided to head in a new direction and have signed a two-year deal with one of the strongest teams in the world, the Danish registered Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank team,” Roche wrote.
Roche was first approached earlier this year by Saxo Bank sports director Nick Gates, who subsequently put him in contact with Riis. “Those few minutes that we spent talking about the possibility of me joining his team almost gave me goosebumps,” Roche said of his first phone conversation with Riis.
Roche acknowledged that eyebrows would be raised at his decision to join a team managed by Riis, who confessed to doping during his career, and led by Alberto Contador, who is banned until August 6th for his positive test for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France.
“I know some people will immediately question my choice of teams,” Roche said. “While the sport’s governing body and the various anti-doping bodies are doing more and more to clean up cycling and the holes in the net are closing up, it’s hard to name any professional team without doping links to the past, whether it’s with a member of staff or rider.”
Roche noted in his Irish Independent column that his switch to Saxo Bank had met the approval of his father Stephen. For the past four seasons, he has been managed by Stephen Roche’s former Fagor teammate Vincent Lavenu.
“For years, my dad has been telling anyone prepared to listen that I need a strong, charismatic directeur sportif who can take me in hand and has the knowledge and years of experience to help me progress,” Roche said. “So it’s hardly surprising to hear that he thinks I made a good decision in joining the Danish squad.”
While Roche aims to improve his time trialling under the tutelage of Riis, the Irishman admitted that he would have to play a supporting role at the Tour de France at his new team.
Roche narrowly missed out on a top ten finish at this year's Tour, but will line up in support of Alberto Contador next year, although he noted that he may get a chance to lead the team elsewhere. “It’s way too early to talk about my race programme for next year, but I don’t think Contador will be riding all three Grand Tours, so that may see me ride one of the other two as team leader.”
Although he is leaving Ag2r, Roche will continue to race as planned until the Tour of Lombardy, and he will lead the squad at the Vuelta a España, which gets underway on August 18.
“In the past, some squads have sidelined their big riders near the end of the season, knowing that they wouldn’t be with them the following year and that any more points they earned would be going towards another team’s points, but Ag2r have let me continue with my programme,” Roche said.
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