Giro d'Italia

Roche eyes Giro glory alongside BMC teammate Dennis

Nicolas Roche is flying under the radar but he has plans to factor into the Giro's GC battle.

MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — Often a super-domestique in stage races, Nicolas Roche has the talent to hunt his own results when given opportunities. This season, he’ll have at least one shot at grand tour glory at the Giro d’Italia in May.

His BMC Racing squad should have plenty of firepower at the start in Jerusalem.

“It will be myself and Rohan Dennis,” Roche told VeloNews last week at the Dubai Tour, where he made his 2018 season debut. “I think starting off with a time trial, Rohan has a big chance of the pink jersey, and then he also wants to give it a go as a GC rider. I’ve always said in a grand tour that there’s no problem going with two or three protected riders.

“Especially with the way the races are done now where everyone rides together so you can actually share the load in the team, it’s perfectly fine to have a couple of GC riders. I think for our team it works out better.”

Roche may generate fewer headlines than teammates Richie Porte or Tejay van Garderen, but the Irishman counts more grand tour stage wins than either on his career palmares, thanks to a pair of stage victories at the Vuelta a España. Although he faded a bit after a strong start, Roche put in another solid ride in Spain last season. He closed out the year with a third overall at the Tour of Guangxi, the final event on the WorldTour calendar.

Now 33, he’s gone from up-and-comer with a rockstar pedigree to respected veteran. In the process, Roche has carved out a role among BMC’s long list of talents.

Roche is gradually building into form this year. With his 2017 campaign ending in late October in China, Roche began his winter break later than normal.

Also, his plan to race the Giro is a break from that norm. Generally, Roche has focused more on the Tour and the Vuelta in years past. He’s only started the Giro three times in his 14-year career.

He’s still fine-tuning things his racing form in preparation for the May 4 start, but at the very least, he’s well-rested. Roche did a bit of vacationing in both Italy and the United Arab Emirates this off-season before getting back to training.

“Finishing that late, I had an easy start. There’s no magic, you can’t go four days on a holiday and then jump on your bike and start doing full-on intervals,” he noted.

That said, Roche rode to a respectable 15th overall at the Dubai Tour. It shouldn’t be long before he’s battling for the bigger one-week prizes in the run-up to the Giro. He is racing the Tour of Oman, and then he’ll target Paris-Nice and the Vuelta al País Vasco. BMC should have an especially strong squad in the latter, with Porte slated to ride.

As of yet, BMC Racing’s long-term status in limbo with no sponsor confirmed. Roche isn’t worried, nor is he approaching races differently at this point in his season.

“If it was after the Giro, I’d start maybe thinking about it or having more interest, but at the moment, it looks like the team is actively looking for sponsors with the will to continue,” he said. “In every case, it’s important for me to get results, so I just focus on that.”

Roche is focused on results but not to the point of fretting over rivals at the Italian grand tour.

“It looks like every grand tour, there’s always the top riders. That’s why they’re the grand tours. That’s why they’re so special. That’s why it’s so hard to get results and be up there,” Roche said.

Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin will attempt to defend his title, and Sky’s Chris Froome plans to start, pending resolution of his Salbutamol case. Roche, however, does not see the Giro field as any more or less dangerous than usual.

“This year is no different than any other year. If not Dumoulin, it’s Quintana. If not Quintana, it’s Valverde. If it’s not Valverde, it’s Contador. If it’s not Contador, it’s Froome,” he added. “It’s always the same guys. Most of them do two. If you don’t get them in the Giro, you get the other third in the Vuelta. It’s exactly the same every year.”

As he made clear in Dubai, Roche has plenty of work to do on his road to Giro fitness. With that in mind, he may reach Israel flying even lower under the radar than usual. Don’t be surprised, however, if a Roche-Dennis pairing lands at least one BMC rider into the GC battle in the first grand tour of 2018.