As the dust settled on the Vuelta a España’s tumultuous stage 2, which saw two of BMC’s top racers, Richie Porte and Rohan Dennis, suffer badly, Nicolas Roche has emerged as BMC’s best-placed rider in the general classification.
As Porte and Dennis have repeatedly stated, neither started the Vuelta with any GC ambitions, and that was confirmed in ways neither of them would have liked. Porte’s gastroenteritis left him on the back foot even before the race had started, while Dennis suffered badly in the heat of stage 2 and both lost over 13 minutes.
Meanwhile, Roche has always put in solid performances at the Vuelta, taking 14th last year as well as leading the race and taking two stage wins in previous seasons. After finishing just behind the main favourites at Caminito del Rey, losing 15 seconds on stage winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), the removal of Porte and Dennis from the Vuelta’s media limelight has left the Irishman as BMC’s best-placed racer, 50 seconds down on current leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky).
Although he did not know for sure that he was doing the Vuelta a España until relatively late, Roche told Cyclingnews ahead of stage 3 that, “it was always in my plan, and I was always in the reserves list, although I hadn’t raced that much.”
Recently fifth in the Tour of Norway after abandoning in the Tour de Pologne with gastroenteritis, Roche said, “I was always preparing as if in my mind I was going to the Vuelta and then if I wasn’t going to go, I’d have been disappointed, but I’d have done the Tour of Germany or Tour of Britain and then it’s the World’s in a month’s time.”
“All the work I’d done prior to the Vuelta would have been used one way or another. So I did the work, hoping that the team were going to trust me, and they did and I’m pleased to be here.”
Asked if he was BMC’s main GC option, Roche answered somewhat cautiously, “in a way, yeah. But I think I’m not going to have the whole team around me for now, anyway, before the first big mountain stages. I’ll just have Fran (Ventoso) racing with me in these first few days.”
As for the stage 4 ascent to Alfacar, Roche has never been up it before, but he is wary about it. “When I first looked at the profile I thought, ‘ok, that goes up in steps’, but now I realise it may be a lot harder and quite technical.”
Whilst his present mission is fairly well established, Roche’s future is much less certain. As yet, he is without a contract for 2019 and is not prepared to comment on where he might sign, beyond “it’s still not settled yet and I can’t say much, to be honest.”
For now, though, he is concentrating on racing, with Alfacar the first big mountain test, and La Covatilla - where he and Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) memorably attacked at the same time on different sides of the road the last time the Vuelta went up there back in 2011 - as a second key challenge next Sunday.
So far, Roche is where he wants to be, or as he puts it. “I’m still there or thereabouts.” And like the rest of the Vuelta riders with potential GC options, he should know more very soon about what his real options are.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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