Saddles teamed up with his pal Joe Papp to interview Ag2r all-rounder Nico Roche ahead of this week's Paris-Nice. The 27-year-old, who lives in Switzerland when not racing around Europe (and Beijing), is currently trying his best to secure a maiden European ProTour stage win at Paris-Nice, a race very dear to his heart.
Top of the morning, Nico. Or should that be bonjour?
No! I see myself as 100 percent Irish. I'm very attached to my Irish roots and it's worrying to see what's going on at home. I preferred it when the Celtic tiger was alive and kicking rather than the recession.
To be sure, to be sure. What about cooking — does Irish stew beat boeuf bourguignon?
It has to be boeuf bourguignon. As much as I love Ireland nothing beats French cuisine. Apart from maybe Italian. I have a soft spot for pizza and that's what I miss most when I have to focus on training. I normally put on four kilos in the off season!
Are you closer to the Irish guys or the French guys in the peloton?
I'm obviously much closer to Dan [Martin] as he's my cousin and Philip Deignan who I have known for years. I do have a good few good French friends too, but most of my mates and training partners in cycling are actually Aussies. Simon Clarke is my best mate in the peloton.
Is it hard being a 'Roche' in cycling?
Yes and no. At this stage I think nobody cares any more. At the start there was a bit more pressure and a lot of expectations based on my dad's career, which obviously made it easier to disappoint. But there have been many benefits. Even though my dad is sometimes on my back, his advice is always good and he knows what he's talking about.
Who do you think has coped better with the famous-dad syndrome — you or Axel Merckx?
I think myself. I've met Axel and he had a hard time. He was put under a lot more pressure than I was. I think the Irish fans are a bit more laid back than Belgians.
Indeed. Saddles fears for his own Belgian love-child. How would you describe yourself as a rider?
I'm a stage hunter who thinks he is a GC rider. I love to ride for GC, it's where I find my balance even though I know I'm missing out on some good stage wins by riding that way. But I really want to finish in the top 10 at the Tour de France.
Could your cousin beat you to it?
I think I have a better chance for the GC but Dan definitely knows how to win bike races although I also reckon I can be the first of us to win Tour stage too. We're similar riders although Dan has already won a mountain-top finish in the Vuelta. At the moment Dan is the best Irish GC rider in one-week races and I'd say I was for the Grand Tours.
But when will that elusive first major European win come?
Hopefully soon! This year I will still aim for the GC, even though I dream of winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege and San Sebastien.
Do you think you're in the right team to make an impact in a Grand Tour?
Ag2r-La Mondiale have opened the doors for me and gave me a chance to play a key role on races so I can't say no. On the other hand, I have also lost some key time on team time trials during Grand Tours because it's one of our downfalls and I do find myself isolated at sometimes. But I can't say that Ag2r is the wrong team for me. I am on the last year of my contract with them though, and will have to think about it more later on in the year. But my mind is on racing at the moment.
Do you get bored being asked about John Gadret all the time?
Nobody asks me about it anymore. We've both moved on and don't talk about it.
And nor shall we. So, ever won a game of Scrabble?
Not that I recall.
Why is your name spelt with an 'H' on Twitter?
Ha ha! It's a long story. It's a mistake that was made years ago on my passport. Ever since, every official document that requires a passport photocopy has a 'h' in it. Also for Twitter, the name 'nicolasroche' was already taken...
Who are your cycling heroes, past and present?
In the past, it was Stuey O'Grady. In the present I reckon Hushovd. I've been teammates with both of them, fortunately. But I don't really watch cycling on TV when I'm not racing. I may check the results and might watch Tour des Flandres or Paris Roubaix and a couple of stages of the Giro to kill the afternoon while we're on training camp. Instead, I read a lot. I like [French author] Marc Levy. I also collect shoes — I'm addicted.
Who would be in your fantasy nine-man team for a Grand Tour?
Tony Martin, Cancellara, Wiggins, Cavendish, Renshaw to lead him out, Andy Schleck, Louis Leon Sanchez, Kreuziger and Sagan.
That's quite a team — and would definitely improve your TTT prospects, providing you were riding instead of Andy. Moving on, what are your views on the likes of Ricco and Contador?
I think they are very different. Ricco should never be allowed near a bike race anymore. His behaviour and actions have damaged the image of cycling. As for Contador, that's a bit more complex isn't it? Or else it would not have taken over a year to resolve the issue. Personally, I think the sentence is wrong. Why is it retroactive and why was he allowed race while under investigation? How many race finishes has he changed by making his team chase breakaways? But then, he wasn't positive when he won the Giro, so why take it off him? Isn't there something wrong when the guy is under investigation, but is considered a super hero? Everyone uses him for publicity on their event, but now that he is caught they take their results back? Wouldn't it be easier if, when someone is in a case as important as this one, they didn't race or their team stopped them racing? That would save a lot of paper work.
Talking of unnecessary paper work, tell us about your autobiography.
I didn't write the autobiography because of what I have won or did in cycling — if that was the case it would only be a few pages long! I did it because I love sharing my experiences with my fans and friends. I have kept diaries for Irish newspapers since my first Grand Tour back in 2007 and even though I got no results at all, people really enjoyed the backstage info or some details about everyday life on a big race. That's why the diaries have continued over the years and their huge popularity in the Irish Independent led to the book. Unfortunately, there's no recipe in it on how to win the Tour. If people are looking for that, they'll have to read someone else's book.
Well, not Andy Schleck's... Tell us about the Twitter spat you had with one chap who reviewed your book online anonymously.
I think it's very easy to talk s*** about people under a pseudonym, when you can hide behind a few letters. I don't think he understood the point of the book and said it should be called "Sorry". But sorry for what? I don't think I should be sorry just because I haven't got so many wins as a pro. I'm proud of my sixth place overall in the 2010 Vuelta, my win in China, the Irish championships. I love my job and I know for a fact that people enjoy reading about it, regardless of my results. 'Inside The Peloton' got very good reviews from all of the Irish national newspapers and media outlets and even won Sports Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards. I think my response probably did what his review was supposed to do in the first place and generated a bit of publicity for a website and an article that would ordinarily only have had maybe a couple of hundred hits. I should have just ignored it, but then again, I was at dinner at a team presentation when I saw it and had drank two (maybe three) glasses of wine, which probably didn't help. Ha ha!
Anonymous cycling bloggers, eh? A rule unto themselves. Tell us a bit about your training and sleeping patterns — when you're not on the sauce.
I get about nine hours a night — bed at 11pm and up around 8am. I train between 22 and 26 hours a week, that's around 600 to 800 kilometres. On a big week I do much more. I usually leave around 9.30am because I like to get back early and rest. I tend to train in groups of two or three max. I'm not a fan of big groups where you spend more time talking than training.
Okay, let's talk equipment. Do you get a rush from seeing new cycling technology or is a bike just a tool for you?
Sure, I'm interested in my equipment. I wouldn't get an erection looking at a new groupset, but I do pay a lot of attention, especially to wheels.
Equipment, tools, erections — you're making Saddles blush. How hard is it going to be when you hang up your cycling shoes?
I'd love to run a nice Italian restaurant that serves a good tagliatelle and a great Barolo wine. It would be candlelit with a big fireplace in the corner. Sounds good doesn't it?
It sure does. But with your good looks, have you not considered modelling?
I've never had a proper think about it, but I'm too short anyway.
To finish up, Nico, let's do a quick-fire round. Would you prefer... third in the Tour GC or winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege?
That's a hard question, but I think third in the Tour.
Fifth place in the Tour GC or winning Amstel Gold?
To be the best Irish and French rider in the Tour or to win a stage of Paris-Nice?
Stage of Paris-Nice.
Win Paris-Nice without a stage or finish low on the Tour GC but win a stage?
Victory on the Champs Elysees or atop Alpe d'Huez?
To wear the polka dot jersey for 10 days at the Tour or to become a cult figure like Johnny Hoogerland following a freak, but not life threatening, accident?
I don't think I'd pick either. I had a terrible crash last year in the Dauphine and that was no fun at all.
Thanks very much for your time, Nico. And good luck for the rest of the season.
No worries, thanks!
Continue the debate with @saddleblaze, @joepabike and @nicholasroche on Twitter.