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Tour of Beijing stage 3: Roche keeps up the family tradition

Stage 3: Mentougou to Yongning, 162km

Nicolas Roche finally delivered his first World Tour victory – and his first international race win of any kind in over three years – winning the Tour of Beijing‘s queen stage from a small breakaway group which held off the charging peloton by a single second. At the age of 27, it was a rich reward for both a rider of undoubted talent and his AG2R La Mondiale team as it battles to maintain its place among the elite 18 UCI ProTeams.

What’s in a name?

More than most, Roche has always carried a greater weight of expectation on his shoulders by virtue of being his father’s son. Stephen Roche was one of the giants of cycling in the late-1980s, winning the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and World Championships in a glorious 1987 season, making him the only man other than Eddy Merckx to complete cycling’s ‘Triple Crown’ in the same year.

Since turning professional at the end of 2004, Roche has raced for a succession of French teams – Cofidis, Crédit Agricole and now AG2R – and has proven himself to be a strong and consistent rider, finishing 15th at the Tour de France and seventh at the Vuelta a España last year. However, he lacks a sprinter’s pace, is a little too large to be an attacking climber and is only a moderately good time-trialist – while being too highly regarded overall to be allowed to pursue wins via breakaways. A career record of five professional wins before today – three in relatively minor races, two at the Irish national championships – is scant reflection of his talent.

Roche heads an Irish one-two

Stage three presented the only real opportunity for Tony Martin‘s rivals to mount a serious challenge for the red jersey. Heading north to Yongning, the race’s one true mountain stage featured a second followed by three first category climbs, with the last two coming in the final 30km.

Ion Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Adriano Malori (Lampre-ISD) and Lloyd Mondory (AG2R) broke away from the peloton before the first climb of the day. They were subsequently joined by the Vacansoleil pair of Lieuwe Westra and Martijn Keizer and Chris Anker Sørensen (Saxo Bank-Sungard), establishing a three-minute lead over the initial first category Gao Qin climb.

Roche secured his biggest career win, prevailing in a tense finish (image courtesy of nicolasroche.com)

As the peloton upped its pace Westra, Keizer and Malori were dropped by the other three before the penultimate climb, with Sørensen eventually deciding to go it alone. He was quickly overhauled at the summit, and a new lead quartet of Egor Silin (Katusha), Juan Manuel Gárate (Rabobank), Matteo Carrera (Vacansoleil) and Janez Brajkovič (RadioShack) formed on the descent with about 25km to go. However they too were reeled in ahead of the final Erpuliang climb, setting the scene for one final battle.

Katusha’s Alexandre Pliuschin launched the initial attack at the foot of the climb, followed by AG2R’s Christophe Riblon and then RadioShack’s Philip Deignan. Riblon quickly dropped back, but the Irish rider continued on over the top of Pliuschin and was soon joined by compatriot Roche and Sky’s Chris Froome. The trio raced over the summit with an advantage of about 20 seconds over the chasing pack as they started the 12km run down to the finish.

The pack closed in rapidly and with 5km left the gap was down to around six seconds, but the leaders kept working hard together and managed to maintain their slim cushion into the final kilometre. Froome, desperate to gain seconds to climb the general classification, provided a willing lead-out which Roche gratefully took advantage of, opening the sprint with just under 300 metres to go and holding off Deignan by nearly a bike length. Froome finished a second back, just ahead of the peloton.

Roche later expressed his relief at breaking a long run of near-misses – he has had a dozen top-five finishes in the past two years – with a win:

I haven’t won a race since the Irish national title in 2009. It gets frustrating finishing second and third. Only winning matters.

I started to sprint for the line pretty far out, with about 300 [metres] to go and thankfully I had favourable wind conditions.

He explained that the team had worked according to a co-ordinated plan to win the stage, with Mondory getting in the early break and other teammates helping position Roche for the final attack:

A tactic was put in place at the pre-stage briefing and the team played the game one hundred percent. I said at the start that I wanted this stage and that Jean-Christophe [Péraud] could move up the general classification. Everyone put themselves into place and the result is there. There are not many days like this where you announce that you want to win and that it works out!

Victory provided a much-needed boost for AG2R – it was only the team’s sixth win of 2011 – who entered this race ranked last of the 18 ProTeams, threatening their guaranteed place at the most prestigious events on the WorldTour calendar. Even so, Roche’s win may not be enough to save a team which boasts a wealth of French climbing talent in Jean-Christophe Péraud, John Gadret, Hubert Dupont and Riblon.

Tony Martin finished safely in the 48-strong chasing bunch to preserve his 17-second lead over David Millar, with the only significant change being Alex Dowsett who dropped down from third after losing over eight minutes on the climbs. Neither of the last two stages features difficult climbs, so barring injury, accident or mechanical failure the top of the general classification is unlikely to change as the focus shifts more on to stage wins and the minor jerseys than the overall.

Stage 4 preview

The penultimate stage is the longest of the race at  189.5km and includes a photo opportunity as the riders contest a King of the Mountains intermediate at the Great Wall before finishing at the Shunyi Olympic Aquatic Centre. There are three minor categorised climbs in all to negotiate, but with the final 44km being entirely downhill or flat and the final 4.5km dead straight, this has bunch sprint written all over it. Look out for stage two winner Heinrich Haussler, Denis Galimzyanov, Theo Bos and Peter Sagan to feature at the line.

Stage 4 profile

Stage 3 result:

1. Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) 3:53:15

2. Philip Deignan (RadioShack) same time

3. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:01

4. Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre) s/t

5. Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank-Sungard) s/t

General classification:

1. Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) 7:10:19

2. David Millar (Garmin-Cervélo) +0:17

3. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:26

4. Steve Cummings (Sky) +0:35

5. Oliver Kaisen (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:39

Points classification:

1. Chris Froome (Sky) 25 pts

2. Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) 17

3. Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) 15

4. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervélo) 15

5. Kun Jiang (Chinese National Cycling Team) 15

Mountains classification:

1. Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 22 pts

2. Lloyd Mondory (AG2R La Mondiale) 18

3. Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) 17

4. Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) 16

5. Adriano Malori (Lampre-ISD) 16

Live coverage and highlights are being shown daily by British Eurosport in the UK.

Tour of Beijing posts

Preview

Stage 1: World champion Martin dominates against the clock

Stage 2: Haussler wins by a whisker

Links: Official Tour of Beijing website, steephill.tv

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

3 Responses to Tour of Beijing stage 3: Roche keeps up the family tradition

  1. Sheree says:

    Great and long overdue win for Nico, and precious points for AG2R.

  2. Pingback: Tour of Beijing stage 4: Lucky 13 for Viviani in Liquigas one-two « The armchair sports fan

  3. Pingback: Tour of Beijing stage 5: Galimzyanov secures breakthrough victory, Martin wins overall « The armchair sports fan

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