One day after animating the national road race championships, Nicolas Roche has announced his retirement from professional cycling. The 37-year-old Irishman has decided to hang up his wheels after 17 years as a professional bike rider, a time when he won two stages in the Vuelta a España, took fifth and sixth overall in the same event and clocked up a number of other professional successes.
“This is both the hardest and easiest decision I have ever had to make,” he said in a statement on Monday. “I have been lucky to have spent time with some of the best cyclists in the world, past and present. We often discussed when is the right time to start a new chapter. I always thought I would keep racing as long as possible; however these riders often said that one morning you will wake up and just know it is time to retire.”
Son of the 1987 Tour de France winner Stephen Roche, he finished third on a stage of this year’s Giro d’Italia. That result plus his recent 13th overall in the Tour of Britain plus second in last Thursday’s Irish time trial championships show that he is still competitive. He was also on course for a possible medal or even victory in Sunday’s road race championships but saw his chances evaporate when breakaway companion Eddie Dunbar crashed, leaving him alone out front with 60 kilometres remaining. He was reeled in and eventually finished sixth.
Roche had originally planned to announce his retirement on Saturday, making public that Sunday would be his final race, but in the end decided to keep things quiet.
“I knew it was going to be a hard moment and I didn’t want to have everybody around me,” he told The Irish Times. “I shared a few tears when I crossed the line. I had my partner, my brother, some friends from university who flew over, and the whole family here in Ireland.
“It was very emotional to cross the line. One of the reasons why I continued after I was out of contention for the win was that I wanted just to roll to the finish line and use that four, five, six kilometres to rethink through my career. I was getting goosebumps in the last kilometre, thinking through that this was the end. And also when I crossed the line and pressed set for the last time in my [bike] computer, realising that that was that.”
Roche’s career saw him clock up more than 1,270 days of competition, including a staggering 24 starts and 22 finishes in cycling’s three-week Grand Tours. He originally intended to keep racing until he was 40, but realised several weeks ago that his motivation to continue was waning.
“It was a decision I made in late August, early September. It wasn’t from one day to the other, I feel it was kind of in the back of my mind after the Giro,” he said.
“I realised that the bunch is getting younger, cycling is changing a lot. And there was a moment where I felt I wasn’t getting as much enjoyment out of it than in other years. It is also so competitive that I was also not recovering as well as I wanted.
“I had a good level again this year, but I want to end my career at the level where I’m satisfied with and not do a year that I feel I’ll be just in the back of the bunch and struggling. So I made the call.”
Notwithstanding that, he might have continued in the sport had he received a good offer from the right team. In the end, though, the current focus on recruiting young riders and bringing them through from the under-23 or even junior level meant that opportunities were limited.
This too affected his motivation to continue, with riders of Roche’s experience being undervalued.
Aside from his two stage wins in the Vuelta a España, Roche had stints in the Vuelta leader’s jersey in 2013 and 2019, as well as overall placings of fifth and sixth. He was also 12th in the 2012 Tour de France, runner-up on several Tour stages and won the Route du Sud stage race. Other notable results include a stage win in the Tour of Beijing plus multiple national championship titles.
Roche’s first cousin Dan Martin recently announced his own retirement and while he said that this didn’t prompt his decision, that it did help him realise it was the right call to make.
“Myself and Dan have been talking about it for quite some months now. And both of us were in similar scenarios. Both of us had a very similar vision of how cycling is changing, and how we are also changing in in our personal lives. For sure, Dan making the call probably reassured me I was making the right call too.”
Roche has done some commentary work on Eurosport and hopes to continue in the same role. He also has a number of business interests, including Irish bike shops, and will also work alongside his longtime agent Andrew McQuaid at Trinity Sports Management. That could see him become a rider representative, helping the next wave of Irish competitors in their professional careers.