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Portrait of a Pilot Fish: Nicolas Roche

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Veteran Irish cyclist Nicolas Roche is a popular face in the peloton. He has been a key support rider for the likes of Alberto Contador and Chris Froome, and this year has aligned himself with his friend and training partner Richie Porte as road captain on BMC Racing and personal pilot fish to Porte. And Roche is having the time of his life…though it’s not always easy. Porte has ridden tremendously all season and many pick him to win the 2017 Tour de France. But in order to win the three-week race, Porte will need an indestructible team. It is Roche’s job to keep the team together on the road. And he knows there will be plenty of attacks….

Words and image by James Startt, European Associate to Peloton


Peloton Magazine: Nicolas, in the last few years you have been hired as a key teammate on teams like Saxo Bank and Team Sky, and this year, you have been hired by BMC as a sort of pilot fish or watchdog to Richie Porte. It’s a unique role; what is expected of you exactly?

Nicolas Roche: For one it’s exciting. It’s a choice I made a few years ago. I was always fighting for eighth or 10th position in the bigger races. There was a point where I found my limits and I thought it would be more interesting to help some guys win some of the big races. I felt I could play a more interesting role, a more satisfying role, helping the team and managing the team around a super-strong rider. In addition, I really enjoy working with Richie; our job is to make sure we keep Richie in the best position so that all he has to do is think about winning the race.

Peloton: Is it as satisfying to help someone like Richie win a big race as it is, say, finishing in the top 10 of a grand tour yourself?

Roche: It’s a different kind of satisfaction. But I really enjoy working with Richie. He’s a very good friend of mine, so it is great to be part of this adventure. I’ve done it with Alberto and I’ve done it with Froomey, and to do it now with Richie, where I have a little more importance on the team, is really exciting.

Peloton: When you say that you have more importance on this team, what does that entail?

Roche: My role is to guide the guys on the road. There is only so much that can be done from a team car and there is so little that can be seen on a television. My role is to see if we need to ride a little faster or ride a little slower, who is going to ride in first and second position, et cetera? Should we let a particular break go? Should we leave the break at three minutes or five minutes?

Peloton: You are the one making those decisions?

Roche: I do it with my director. I’m not the boss on the road, but I give my opinion.

Peloton: You said that you are good friends with Richie. Do you have a chance to train together much?

Roche: We train together most days, yeah.

Peloton: Richie is obviously riding tremendously. He has been strong all year. Have you ever seen him this strong?

Roche: I have actually. I’d say that his big step this year is mentally. He feels strong and knows he’s strong and he knows that he has the team backing him 100 percent. I think that makes it easier for him. All he has to do is pedal and win races. I’ve known Richie since 2010 and I’ve just seen him evolve into this super-captain that he is now.

Peloton: You’ve obviously worked with his biggest rivals, including Froome and Contador. They each have qualities and strengths. Are there different qualities and strengths that jump out at you when you think of each guy?

Roche: I suppose that they have to be very similar. All three riders know how to ride aggressively. They know how to manage a team and they have an impeccable lifestyle. That’s very important. Looking for differences probably comes more down to size and weight.