Giro d'Italia - Stephen Roche's verdict on the race so far

In 1987 Stephen Roche won the prestigious Triple Crown of cycling after victories in the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Road Race World Championship. For this week’s Toursday he gives his views on the Giro d’Italia so far, and recalls his own victory in '87.

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Giro d'Italia - Stephen Roche's verdict on the race so far
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Britain's Bradley Wiggins during the Giro d'Italia (Reuters)

What do you make of the Giro so far?

I think what we’ve seen so far is the difference between the Tour and Giro in terms of how much of a factor the weather can play. In the Giro you get the very hot weather and also the extremely bad weather, which you don’t really get with the Tour. Some of the riders have really struggled with it and you can see it’s taken its toll on them. We’ve seen how dangerous the fast descents can be and that riders become very wary of the wet roads to avoid any crashes. If you do come off your bike, it can shatter your confidence and can affect the rest of the race. We saw this with Bradley Wiggins, he came off in the wet in one stage, and I think this affected how he descended during the time trial.

Has the race gone as you’d expected?

I didn’t expect Bradley to lose as much time as he has. The time trial didn’t go to plan, ok he got a puncture, and he would have won had that not happened but he still wouldn’t have won it by a big margin, which is what he was expecting and what everyone else was expecting. He definitely lost time in the descents because of the weather. So to analyse what’s happened in the first week, you have to say things haven’t gone to plan for Bradley, I think the first week has really taken its toll on him. I think Team Sky have gone to the Giro with the plan of Bradley having the pink jersey before the time trial and if not then definitely afterwards. This way it meant they would just have to defend the pink jersey, something which they’re very good at. Whereas now Bradley is still down on time and it’s going to be very difficult to get it back. Bradley’s not the sort who really attacks in the mountains. I don’t think it will really work trying to chip away at the time as I don’t think he will be able to shake the other riders, so we may see something different from Bradley which we haven’t seen in the past.

Team Sky may have to come up with a plan B where perhaps they could use the Colombian riders, Henao and Uran and make Nibali and the others ride behind them. But for the time being it’s basically back to the drawing board as I don’t think Sky had anticipated this situation. There’s still another time trial but it’s very undulating and going to be harder to win by a bigger margin, plus the Italians in their home race are notorious for pulling out all the stops. But the thing about the Giro is that it’s very unpredictable, you can never be totally sure what’s going to happen. You often have riders performing better there than anywhere else, and again the weather is a major factor. If Bradley can get his confidence back then you never know, but I would be very surprised if Nibali doesn’t hold on from here.

If the Giro continues to not go to plan for Bradley how do you think this will affect his approach to the Tour de France?

I think Dave Brailsford will have a difficult task on his hands. Bradley being the champion he is I think will demand the respect and the respect as a leader. The Tour’s route this year suits Chris Froome much more, there’s no doubt about it. So on paper he should be the ultimate leader, but Bradley could be used as an outsider, making sure he remains in good position just in case anything happens. Both Chris and Bradley need to remember they’re not there to win the Tour for themselves, it’s Team Sky who are there to win the Tour, so before anything else the most important thing is to realise they’re doing it for the team.

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You won the Giro in 1987, it’s famously remembered for the stage from Lido di Jesolo to Sappada when you broke away from your team-mate Roberto Visentini to take the pink jersey from him. What do you remember from that stage?

I remember the main reason was Visentini took the pink jersey from me in the time trial the day before despite me having the jersey for six or seven days prior to that. He decided that he wanted me to ride for him but that wasn’t the plan at all, so I decided to take it back. After the time trial I sat down with team-mate Eddy Schepers and we looked at where I could get the jersey back. We thought it would be tough later in the mountains because Roberto would be strong there, and plus it wouldn’t look great from a team perspective to attack him, so we decided to do it the next day because he would have still been tired from the time trial. The opportunity came about 60km or so from the finish. There were three riders out front, and I thought we should have someone at the front so that’s what I did. I wasn’t attacking, but was going fast trying to catch the break. When I eventually caught the break I’d taken about 1.30-2.00 minutes off the guys the behind me. It wasn’t done to attack Roberto he could have followed me but he couldn’t. I had the team on the radio asking me what I was doing, they said; “Stephen you shouldn’t be doing this.” I said “I’m defending the pink jersey, Roberto took the jersey off me yesterday so now I’m a team rider.” Then they told me that Roberto had a team-mate with him and are now chasing the break and that I had to stop. I told them there was no way I was going to stop, and that if Roberto is going to keep chasing me to tell him to save some energy because when he catches me he’s going to need it! He caught me about 40km later at the foot of the final climb. We went over the top, and Roberto blew his brains on the climb, so couldn’t keep the pace. I was able to get away and eventually finished behind a small group and reclaimed the pink jersey.

You then went on to win the Tour de France and the World Road Race Championship, known as the Triple Crown. It’s quite rare to see riders contest both the Giro and the Tour, why is that and do you think it makes your achievement all the greater?

I think it does yes. Riders are afraid in that there’s only four weeks between the end of the Giro and the start of the Tour. It’s much more reasonable to do the Tour and the Vuelta. Generally everyone will be aiming for the Tour, so they’ll worry that by doing the Giro it will disrupt their preparation by over doing it. Bradley has said we wants to do both, I think he’s quite capable he could also do the World Road Race Championship. There are a few riders capable to doing all three and he’s one of them and Alberto Contador is another one.

What do you make of next year’s Giro starting in Ireland?

I’m delighted, first of all for cycling in Ireland. Hosting such a big event it can only encourage kids into the sport. I think people in Ireland will get an idea of how big the Giro really is. In terms of exposure and media it falls second to the Tour, but certainly on the cycling side of things it’s just as important and that’s what I hope people will see.

We recently asked our cycling fans on social media for their favourite moment from Tour de France history. The most popular choice was in the 1987 Tour in La Plagne, and your battle with Pedro Delgado. How do you feel about that?

I’m actually flattered and realty delighted. There’s many moments to choose from and for that to be the most popular is truly amazing, I’m astonished by it really. It was a fabulous stage in more ways than one. I think it’s fantastic, it’s especially nice to be chosen by the cycling fans. It’s funny that people remember the moment I collapsed more than when I actually won the Tour!

Stephen Roche Cycling Holidays and Training Camps based in Palmanova, Mallorca have for the last 17 years provided cyclists of all ages and levels of ability with the opportunity to take part in cycle camps and holidays that were fully guided and supported by a professional team of staff. http://www.stephenroche.com/

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