Nicolas Roche signed for Team Sky in late 2014, coming on as a super-domestique who will slave away at the sharp end of the peloton for the team’s general classification riders, and as a stage-poacher capable of upsetting the favourites in hilly stages. Before all the training camps, team meetings, and racing, Nicolas travelled for an extensive session with Team Sky’s designers and developers, who fitted the new recruit for his racing and training kit – all in all, hundreds of garments that will keep Nicolas protected and comfortable as he plies his trade.
Rapha’s developers spend three hours with each rider, working their way through every aspect of the rider’s needs and preferences. We caught up with Nico as he trained with the team in Mallorca to ask him about his kit, the fit, and his plans for the year ahead.
The Irishman comes from strong racing pedigree, with a Tour de France-winning father in Stephen Roche and a cousin in the professional peloton, Daniel Martin.
You’ve been a professional since you joined Cofidis as a stagiaire in 2004. Did you know exactly what to expect from the fitting?
I had an a bit of an idea from conversations in the peloton. We have a good chat in the bunch, and it’s pretty common to find yourself talking about kit – what we like and what we don’t like, what works and what breaks, what looks good and what is embarrassing.
A friend gave me a Rapha jersey at the Tour of California in 2012, and it really impressed me. It wasn’t meant for racing – it’s something for a café ride, styled like a ‘70s racing jersey, made out of lightweight wool. The jersey was really special, just like our team kit.
There are a lot of choices in the fitting process, from simple points of style to bigger decisions about fabric weights and finishes. What do you look for in your kit, and how did you make those calls?
Well, what I’ve learnt in the past couple of seasons is that there isn’t much of a trade-off anymore, you don’t have to choose between comfort and speed, or protection and fit – you can have it all, pretty much. The fabrics used in this kit stand up to the abuse of riding and washing, they fit well, and keep moisture off your body.
When I started out, the best rain jackets were those Gore-Tex things that flapped in the wind. I hate the feeling of fabric flapping in the wind, and it’s totally a thing of the past now.
The Rapha fit process was quite like visiting a tailor – I kind of knew what I wanted, but I also knew I could trust them to help me make decisions.
You had the first delivery of kit a couple of weeks ago – how are you finding it?
Yeah, but I waited until 1st January to wear it. I looked forward to it, because I’ve been working as a part of this team since the end of last season, but I haven’t looked the part. So I went for an easy spin, two and a half hours, in my new uniform. Going through my allocation, I realised how many bits of kit I’d forgotten about since the fitting. It’s extensive.
What’s the one bit of kit you can’t do without?
The winter tights. I’ll train in these until late April, or until the temperature starts pushing past 18C. I prefer these to leg warmers, as most pros do, because leg grippers and stitching can become an issue with the amount of miles we put in.
We’ve been doing a lot of work in the past couple of days, and it’s been quite warm, so most of us are wearing mid-weight jerseys, merino base layers, and tights. The high collars keep the wind off our necks. I’ve got a thicker jacket for the slower days, and a Team Sky Pro Gilet for the descents.
You’ve had a big couple of years, with a top-5 at La Vuelta, the overall at the Route du Sud, and many big days at the front of the peloton working for your team leaders. What do you have planned for the coming season?
I know my racing won’t be too far different from last year, although we haven’t ironed out all the details yet. I like being able to play different cards – stage poacher, team leader, super-domestique – and I’m happy to be as useful as possible. I work hard, and I take my chances when the time comes. This has worked well for me over the past couple of years.
It’s like anything in life: having a goal is important, no matter what that goal is. So, I adapt to what the team needs and manage my ego. I’ve got no problem sacrificing myself for the team.
Aside from your new kit, what’s in your race bag?
Headphones, always. We get well looked after, so almost everything we need is on the bus, so I just bring my headphones for the times when I want to hide in plain sight.
Right now, you’re a couple of days into a big training camp. How do you think you’ll feel by the end of it?
Apart from tired? I think I’ll feel almost ready to race. I’ve had a good winter, starting with big rides in November, targeted work in December, so this just feels like the next step. It’s not easy, not at all, but it’s a natural progession.
One of the two divisive questions of style: how long do you wear the hem of your shorts?
I need ‘long enough’ shorts – mine finish about 7cm above the middle of the knee, keeping the grippers away from the tendons that line the back of the joint. I can’t stand the feeling of tendons flexing underneath the grippers.
And the socks?
Quite high. Higher than the old style, at least.