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

'Obviously my big issue is that every time there’s a descent I’m dropping the wheel and I have to sprint for 5km just to get back to the group,' Irish rider says after fifth in Big Sugar Gravel.

Photo: Nicolas Roche

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

Plans are still in their infancy but the Irish rider has the backing of Bianchi, Ekoi and Assos. There will be three provisional spots on the roster with Roche joined by his younger brother and an as-yet-chosen female pro gravel racer. A fourth spot could be opened up in the coming weeks and months if further budget can be secured.

The team will race between 12 to 15 events on both sides of the Atlantic, with Roche keen to build on his experiences from 2022.

Also read: Big Sugar Gravel: Russell Finsterwald takes solo win in men’s race

“I’m going to put together a small team. I’ve completely embraced the gravel world, so next year I’ll still be working on TV and carrying on with commitments to Trinity Racing, but hopefully, we’ll do between 12 and 15 races between the U.S. and European scene. I thought it would be nice to get a team together, so we can travel and race together,” Roche told VeloNews.

“I started gravel thanks to my little brother, so he’s going to be on the team and we’ll have a female rider on the squad too. If we can secure a bit more sponsorship we’ll make it four riders. It’s obviously not a full-on team but we’ll share this experience. We’ve not chosen the female rider, so that spot is still available. It’s tough because a lot of the women have teams, and a number are still focused on the road but I’m working on it. It will be a team that’s all about the adventure.”

Roche has dipped his toes into the gravel scene since retiring from road racing at the end of 2021. He’s raced several major events in Europe and the U.S., and competed in the first UCI Gravel World Championships in October.

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.

“The first hour and a half were crazy. Last week in the Belgian Waffle Race I was racing very aggressively and then when it came to the complicated single track I completely exploded. I lost a lot of time. Today I was going with the front group and luckily it settled down before it went again,” Roche told VeloNews.

“Obviously my big issue is that every time there’s a descent I’m dropping the wheel and I have to sprint for 5km just to get back to the group. Technically I don’t think that I’m bad but I’m just behind these really top guys. I pay for that a lot, when I’m basically time trialing back to the leaders. I just need to work on the technical side. So I’ve talked to Bianchi and I’ll get a mountain bike in the winter and a few friends will help me work on the downhill side of things. I never did cyclocross, mountain biking, or any races on the cobbles really, so it’s obvious that it’s going to take me a little time to learn.”

“Today was a technical descent into a bit of a steep climb. I hit that with a bit of a handicap and after ten times of that I couldn’t close the gap. I was with Alex Howes and we just rode to the finish. I was happy when I got to the line.

When asked if racing in the front group was comparable to being in the break at a major road race, Roche brought up an interesting comparison between the nature of racing gravel and the inline platform Zwift.

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

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