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Make mine a triple: a chat with 1987 Giro-Tour-worlds champion Stephen Roche

1987 Tour de France podium: Stephen Roche
Roche celebrates after the stage 19 time trial of the 1987 Tour. AFP Photo

It was some 24 years ago, in 1987, that Irish cycling hero Stephen Roche won the Tour de France; it was his and Ireland’s only ever Tour victory — if you can actually be so blasé as to use the word “only” in the same sentence as a hard earned Tour de France victory; the culmination of a life’s work and ambition for any cyclist.

Now on a recent day, VeloNews found him packing his bike once more and making for a new challenge; the London-Paris ride, a major annual cyclo-sportive stage event, which he’s ridden before in aid of charity (leukemia research).

“I’m flying straight from my Majorca cycling camp and will be riding the London-Paris, and then I start work at the Tour de France for Skoda France, so I’m busy enough.”

Since his retirement at the end of 1993 Roche has continued to have a close involvement with the sport, both through his son Nicholas (and member of the Ag2r squad) and numerous roles he still has within cycling. Roche has always been known for his no-nonsense straight talking, a strong will and discipline, and for having had bundles of class and tactical sense as a bike rider.

Few will ever forget his precisely calculated ride to Les Deux Alpes in the 1987 Tour, where he pegged back Pedro Delgado on the final climb, to effectively put himself back into contention for the race, and in doing so ended up on oxygen and in the hospital. This kind of tactical astuteness and such guts characterized Stephen Roche as a rider.

These heroic acts are seen less and less these days, as riders often seemingly race as virtual robots, controlled by directors back in their team cars, an issue that has caused much controversy in recent months;

“I think race radios should be abolished,” Roche said. “The reasons from the managers for keeping them are not viable reasons. I don’t think having a radio in every rider’s ear and yelling at them helps in their reasoning. I think looking at cycling long-term that (radios) will kill it off because it makes the racing less spectacular. People outside often wonder if the riders are men or machines. There’s seemingly no rider-thought behind actions; it’s basically the DS in the car behind calling the shots, it makes it look like all the riders have to do is ride their bikes and not think.”

The “radio-controlled” system often starts at junior level, Roche noted.

“I had the opportunity to speak to some young riders last weekend and they were saying that sometimes you have to take a step back to step forward, agreeing with my thoughts. I think you have to stop it at junior level. Lots of riders have never really raced without them, and don’t know how to. They have to learn to think and race. One guy actually said; ‘Who’s going to tell me what to do?’ That’s exactly the point, and I recognise that, and it will take time to learn. But I think for the future good of the sport they have to go.”

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