Nicolas Roche has welcomed the more active role Bjarne Riis is set to play in the sporting side of the Tinkoff-Saxo team following his sale of the team to Oleg Tinkov, which was confirmed in London on Monday.
In spite of a pending investigation by the Danish Anti-Doping Agency, reportedly centred around Riis' time as a team manager, the Dane claimed that he will continue as general manager of the revamped Tinkoff-Saxo squad "for at least three years" and is set to play a more active role at races throughout the calendar.
"That’s something I'm really looking forward to," Roche told Cyclingnews. "When Bjarne's around, the team is just that extra bit focused and that brings some extra excitement to the race. He comes with ideas that change the profile of the race. He takes the extra bit of risk in races, when maybe some sports directors mightn't be ready to take the risk, which is normal too."
In particular, Roche pointed to Riis' tactical influence in helping him take 5th place overall at the 2013 Vuelta a España and Saxo-Tinkoff's dramatic echelon attack on the road to Saint-Amand-Montrond during the Tour de France. "I think Bjarne's really strong when it comes to creating team spirit and putting together a team that’s really dedicated to its leader, and that makes a huge difference," Roche said.
Beyond Riis' more hands-on role, Roche acknowledged that the expected stability provided by the new ownership would allow the team to compete financially with the likes of Team Sky and BMC, particularly in the field of preparation.
"It's more finances to organise training camps and things like that. I can only see it being beneficial," Roche said. "I don't think racing makes you progress – training makes you progress. And training camps are a lot more costly than racing. For young riders, when you want to show them how to train and teach them about diet, you can only do it on training camps. So if we're going to have more training camps, that can only be beneficial for top riders but also for the young riders who learn a lot from that."
Alberto Contador's body language at Monday’s press conference did little to dispel the impression that he is still smarting from Oleg Tinkov’s very public criticism after the Tour de France, but Roche believes that any lingering creases in the relationship can be ironed out. "It was an event and things have moved on and for everyone it's better to close the page and not hold a grudge," he said.
Roche will again be among Contador's most important lieutenants at the Tour next year, but the opening part of his season will be radically different as he builds towards the Giro d'Italia, where he will line up alongside Rafal Majka (7th in 2013) as a protected rider: "I'll be doing all the Italian races. I'll start with Oman, Strade Bianche, San Remo, the Classics and then the Giro."
With the Giro getting underway in Belfast on May 9th and passing through Dundalk, where he claimed his first win as an under-14 rider, en route to Dublin, Roche has made no secret of his desire to ride the corsa rosa.
"I wouldn't want to go to the start in Ireland without being competitive. For the team to say that I can go, I want to be ready for it and give my best there," said Roche.
Moments later, and in keeping with the tenor of an atypical afternoon at Google's London HQ, a clumsily-delivered vote of confidence arrived from the new team owner, who stepped across the room and threw an arm around Roche's shoulders. "He will take the pink jersey, yes," Oleg Tinkov beamed. "Of course, in Ireland he should, and they will drink all of the whiskey and all of the Guinness."
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