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Nicolas Roche keeps it in the family

By Steven Beacom and Pippa Morson

Nicolas Roche is expecting an 'electric atmosphere' when the Giro d'Italia starts in Belfast on Friday and can't wait to be involved in the race won by his famous dad 27 years ago.

In the build-up to the biggest sporting event ever to take place in Northern Ireland, the great Stephen Roche has become a familiar face.

Acting as an ambassador for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Roche senior, victorious in the Giro in 1987, has excelled promoting the race.

Now it's over to his boy to deliver on the roads.

While not as successful as his father, who was also a Tour de France winner and World Champion, Roche junior is well respected on the cycling circuit and last year claimed his first stage victory in a grand tour event at the Vuelta a Espana, finishing fifth overall.

The French born rider will have plenty of support in the opening three days when the Giro will be in Northern Ireland before crossing the border to the Republic.

"As soon as I heard the Giro was coming to Ireland, I told the team I wanted to ride it," said 29-year-old Roche.

"The atmosphere in Belfast will be electric and I'm looking forward to playing my part."

He adds that the Giro being on our own doorstep will encourage youngsters here to take up the sport.

"Having the pre-Giro festival in Northern Ireland, with all the activities, before the Giro actually starts is a great way to attract kids into our sport and show there are other sports out there apart from football and rugby for youngsters to get into. Cycling is tough but we can also show it is fun and cool."

Despite entering an arena where his dad enjoyed legendary status, Nicolas says he did not feel an extra burden when he turned pro in 2005, though living in France as a youngster, his route into big time cycling wasn't exactly conventional.

"Cycling was the last sport my dad pushed me into. I did every other sport before cycling... tennis, running, football, rugby, then gradually I got into cycling and found I enjoyed competing," he recalls.

"One of the biggest fights I had with my dad was when I told him I was going to drop out of school to give it a go as a pro after I did my leaving certificate.

"He wanted me to stay in school and said I was too young and needed to secure more of an educational background before going off cycling, so we made a deal and I had two years to give it a shot.

"I wasn't a pro then and he told me I couldn't live a pro life so I worked in his hotel for a year until I got the chance to turn pro. I did everything from cleaning the rooms to cooking to managing the hotel.

"My working hours were adapted for my training and it was a good experience."

Once on the professional scene, the former Irish National Road Race Champion impressed with an aggressive racing style and has since progressed to be considered one of the most consistent riders in the peloton.

Now riding for the UCI World Tour team Tinkoff-Saxo, after winning an individual stage in the Tour of Spain, he became the first Irishman in 25 years to wear a race leader's jersey at a Grand Tour and will arrive in Belfast having raced in the Tour de Romandie in Switzerland.

One of Northern Ireland's most respected racers on two wheels will be keeping an eye on his performance.

With a base in Monaco, Roche has become friendly with resident Eugene Laverty, the Toomebridge man who is a major star in World Superbikes.

Roche reveals: "I have a great relationship with Eugene, who I met in 2010 on a TV show back in Ireland.

"We kept in touch and funny enough we both ended up living in Monaco.

"It's nice to share our passions.

"It's a healthy environment when you are around sportspeople who are as determined and focused as you.

"I've been to see him race. It was an amazing experience at Monza.

"I would almost say I was an umbrella girl!

"They organised for me to get a pass so I could be on the start line until about five minutes from the beginning of a race and it was great.

"I really enjoyed it."

Without an engine, Roche aims to enjoy the 2014 Giro as well.

* Chris Froome won the final stage of the Tour de Romandie to successfully defend his title in Switzerland yesterday.

The Tour de France champion dominated the 18.5 kilometre concluding time-trial around Neuchatel to seal overall victory by 28 seconds from Simon Spilak (Katusha).

It was Team Sky's third successive win in the event after Sir Bradley Wiggins' win in 2012 and Froome's the following year.

Froome led world time-trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) by a second at the top of the course's solitary climb and held on to win by the same margin at the finish.

The Kenya-born Briton finished in 24 minutes 51 seconds, while Spilak, the 2011 winner, was seventh in 25mins 20secs.

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