Nicolas Roche has ridden alongside some of the biggest names in the peloton, including Alberto Contador and Chris Froome. At 32, he moves to the sixth team of his 13-year professional career with eyes of exporting that experience to BMC Racing to help Richie Porte try to win the Tour de France.
“I believe in Richie and want to give him support in the major races,” Roche said at a team camp last month. “This team suited me perfectly at this time of my career. I’ve tried being a team leader to helping out, and now I have the experience to do all those things.”
Roche has seen how Contador tries to exploit every opening, and he’s watched how Sky swarms the peloton with top GC riders to protect Froome’s flank. He admits it’s no easy task to take on Sky’s deep squad packed with riders who could be captains on other teams.
“There are other ways to get to Froome,” Roche said. “As predictable as the Tour can be sometimes, there are days it is not so predictable. That was one of Contador’s strongest points. If you let down your guard for a second, he would go for it.
“It is quite difficult to catch out Sky. They’re very organized, super solid. Out of nine riders, four or five riders are capable of being in the top 5 themselves. That’s the Sky technique, to avoid any problems and make them ride for Chris.”
Roche said the key to getting to Froome is to do something to knock Sky off its game plan. It worked in the 2016 Vuelta, when Sky was caught out by early attacks from Contador and Nairo Quintana in stage 15 to Formigal. Losses that day cost Froome a likely Vuelta victory.
“It’s not easy to drop Froome on a climb, and even harder to beat him in a time trial,” Roche said. “[Froome] has won a lot of races, but he hasn’t won all the races. He was beaten at the  Vuelta, so if you have a good plan … but at the end of the day, it’s going to have to be Richie’s job to beat Froome on the climbs.”
Roche rode alongside Froome during the 2015 Tour victory, but he was squeezed off the 2016 Tour squad by Sky’s deep bench. With his move to BMC Racing, he’s on the long list to ride the Tour alongside Porte, who takes over the solitary team captain’s role as Tejay van Garderen slides over to race the Giro d’Italia.
“I’m still hungry, I’m still competitive,” he continued. “I can help Richie, and with four languages, I can help some of the younger guys, but I can also have my own chances in other races. … I needed a change again. I enjoyed my time at Sky, and I wanted to win a Tour with Chris, but I am good friends with Richie and I believe he can win the Tour.”
Porte, who turns 32 later this month, earned his chance to lead BMC this summer after riding to fifth overall last year despite losing time in a first-week mechanical. The Tasmanian crashed out of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and returns to racing this month in Australia, with an eye on winning the Santos Tour Down Under before returning to Europe.
Roche said the challenge of helping Porte in the Tour is just what he needs to keep going. He even hinted that he could keep racing until he turns 40.
“I am still fresh and hungry, and at the end of day, I just love this job. I don’t want to give up on it,” he said. “Every year, I get that same ball in the stomach in the first meeting about the race programs, so long as I still have that vibe and feel in December … I would aim for 40.
“My dad [Irish cycling legend Stephen Roche] regretted stopping as early as he did, but he fought back from injury and wanted to stop with a good image,” he said. “Cycling has evolved, and though the racing is not that much different, the travel is much easier. Before, they’d leave home and it would be, ‘see you in six months.’ Now we can go home for three days between racing, and you’re fresh as a daisy. Now you have a proper family and you can go on longer.”