Bitten by the bug: Nicolas Roche to launch gravel team in 2023

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After finishing fifth in the elite men’s race at Big Sugar Gravel on Saturday, former WorldTour pro Nicolas Roche has confirmed VeloNews that he would be pitching a gravel team in 2023.

Plans are still in their infancy, but the Irish pilot has the support of Bianchi, Ekoi and Assos. There will be three provisional spots on the list, with Roche joined by his younger brother and a still-chosen professional gravel racer. A fourth slot could open in the coming weeks and months if more budget can be secured.

The team will compete between 12 and 15 events on both sides of the Atlantic, with Roche keen to build on its experiences from 2022 onwards.

Read too: Big Sugar Gravel: Russell Finsterwald wins alone in men’s race

“I will assemble a small team. I have fully embraced the gravel world, so next year I will still be working on TV and continuing commitments to Trinity Racing, but I hope to do between 12 and 15 races between the US and the European scene. I thought it would be nice to get a team together, so we can travel and race together,” Roche said. VeloNews.

“I started on the gravel thanks to my younger brother, so he will be in the team and we will also have a woman in the squad. If we get a little more sponsorship, we’ll make four riders. Obviously not a complete team, but we will share this experience. We didn’t choose the Amazon, so this spot is still available. It’s difficult because a lot of women have teams, and some are still focused on the road, but I’m working on it. It will be a team that is all about adventure.”

Roche has plunged his feet into the gravel scene since retiring from road racing in late 2021. He has competed in several major events in Europe and the US and competed in the first ever UCI Gravel World Championship in October.

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At Big Sugar in Bentonville, Arkansas, the Irish rider made the first group in the early stages of the action, but his technical skills were exposed by the more experienced off-roaders. The men’s race was won by Russell Finsterwald.

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“The first hour and a half was crazy. Last week at the Belgian Waffle race I was running very aggressively and when it got to the tricky track I completely exploded. I wasted a lot of time. Today I was going with the lead group and luckily everything calmed down before I went again,” Roche said. VeloNews.

“Obviously my big problem is that every time I go down I let go of the steering wheel and I have to run 5km just to get back in the group. Technically, I don’t think I’m bad, but I’m just after these really top guys. I pay a lot for this when I’m basically testing time back to leaders. I just need to work on the technical side. So I talked to Bianchi and I’m going to buy a mountain bike in the winter and some friends are going to help me work out the downhill side of things. I’ve never done cyclocross, mountain biking or any cobblestone racing, so obviously it’s going to take a little time to learn.”

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“Today was a technical descent on a somewhat steep climb. I hit it with a bit of a handicap and after ten times I couldn’t close the gap. I was with Alex Howes and we just shot it to the end. I was happy when I got to the line.

When asked if running in the front group was comparable to being at range in a big road race, Roche offered an interesting comparison between the nature of racing gravel and the Zwift inline platform.

“Gravel racing is really different to say running on a break from road racing. A friend of mine at SRAM told me recently that gravel riding is a bit like Zwift in that while the draft isn’t that important, when you’re in the group you’re in the group, but when you’re behind the group, you lose minutes like when on Zwift.”


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