Nico Roche’s pro career began as a 19-year-old with Cofidis in 2004 — exactly 17 years after his father, Stephen, won the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia in 1987. The family’s robust heritage within cycling only grew when Dan Martin, Roche’s cousin, joined Team Garmin in 2008.
Both riders went on to achieve buckets of success throughout their respective careers; Roche won two stages of the Vuelta a España, also achieving a top ten placing in the general classification twice, while Martin won two monuments.
We sat down with Roche at Rouleur Live 2021, where he contemplated how having a family well known within the peloton has influenced his career. “My teddy bears were Tour de France teddy bears, and I used to dress up in my dad’s clothes and cycle my bike around the garden. I can’t say it hasn’t [affected my career], but in what way and to what extent? I have no idea.”Nico Roche at Rouleur Live 2021 (Image: Sean Hardy)
It’s perhaps ironic, then, that Martin and Roche have called time on their careers in the same year. One day prior to departing for the 2021 Tour of Britain from Penzance, Dan Martin announced on Twitter that this would be his final season. Did Dan’s decision influence Nico’s at all?
“We spoke about it during the Olympics, that’s the first time we had a proper talk about retirement”, explained Nico. “At the Giro, Dan said it might be his last year. And you know, I was like: maybe he’s just a bit down. You never know with Dan.”
“At the Olympics, we had a more serious talk about it, and I was like, 'I actually can’t believe he’s going to stop'. He’s been so good the last few years, winning a stage of the Giro and stuff like that, and I just couldn’t see him stopping". Martin's victory atop Sega di Ala was his first at the Giro d'Italia, and after two prior stage victories at the Vuelta and Tour, it meant he'd won a stage at all three Grand Tours.
"More and more we had deeper talks, and I also related to a lot of the stuff he was saying, I was feeling exactly the same. So I thought, maybe I should also come to this point in my life where I should also accept that it is what it is, and I am getting old, and I should be happy that I’ve done 17 years.”
Portrait by Véronique Rolland
Nico also talked us through the process he went through in deciding that retirement was the right step for him.
"I think I made the call on the morning of Plouay [Bretagne Classic], actually just a few days after being with GCN and Eurosport in Bath. I had a really, really good time commentating, and that was an eye opener. I hadn’t been enjoying the last few weeks and months of cycling. I thought, 'Ah, I’m actually having a lot of fun doing something else other than riding my bike'.
“And I went directly, taking the boat across into Brittany and went to the start of Plouay. That morning I woke up for the first time and thought, I don’t really want to be here".
Roche continued, "Whereas in August, I was still in 50/50, do I want to stop? I was trying to convince myself that I wanted to do one more year because I was afraid of stopping, but those few days, like I said, with GCN/Eurosport, made me realise that I can have a lot more fun doing something else, and there wasn’t just cycling in my life".
So, what's next for Nico?
"The last month has gone so quick and I’m working on a lot of projects", said Roche. "I’ve already said many times that I’d love to work more in TV, like I’ve done bits and pieces over the last few years, so hopefully I’ll be doing a bit of that. I’ve also got some projects on the side, I’m developing some stuff in London, also doing a bunch up in Ireland.
"So I’m busy, it’s just about finding one thing."
Cover image by Véronique Rolland