Guest Article: Stephen Roche; A Study in The V

It is with an especially acute understanding of pushing oneself to ones limits, having just completed my second assault on Haleakala, with which I select this Guest Article, a first contribution from community member Scaler911. 

Especially acute in this case meaning that reading this account reminds me that I have no idea how to suffer on a climb. None at all. If I could ride like Roche, I would have done the climb an hour faster and the maximum elevation would have been crushed down by at least 300 feet from the Pedal Stomping Effect, which is commonly known to reduce a hill’s elevation. Enjoy the read.

Yours in cycling,

Frank

I hold a special place in my heart for the Irish. Both sides of my family are from the Emerald Isle, and I’ve done some traveling there. Early in my racing career, I started following the Euro-pros and was drawn to the strong men of Belgium and Ireland. The list is of course topped by King Eddy. In close second, I give you Stephen Roche.

Early in his pre-contract days, Roche had to “…win, or go back to Ireland…” to work a machine shop at a dairy. That season he won the amateur version of Paris-Roubiax.

In his debut professional season, 1981, Roche threw down The V on none other than Le Blaireau himself at the Tour de Corse. And it’s not like Hinault was at the end of his career; he had already had won three Tours, the Vuelta, the Giro, and was currently wearing ‘The Hoops’ around his torso. Less than a month later, Roche won Paris-Nice even though he was ill.

In the ’87 Giro, Roche was to be riding in support of teammate Roberto Visentini, the defending champion and local guy. Roche attacked his teammate, drawing scorn from the tifosi, but ending up with the Maglia Rosa on his back in St. Vincent. Poor sportsmanship? Perhaps, but LeMan would have more yellow jerseys above his fireplace had he done the same. And, besides, Visentini’s palmares pale in comparison (who’s Visentini?) and Roche doubted his teammates promise to return the favor for the TdF. Sound familiar?

Later that same year at le Tour, Hinault had retired, and LeMan was recovering from his bird hunting escapades, Roche was the favorite. 1987 saw the most mountainous Tour since the war. On stage 20, crossing Galibier, Madeleine, and finishing on La Plagne, Roche attacked early. Delgado then attacked, and Roche found himself 1:30 down in the middle of the last climb. He then crushed the remainder, in his big ring, pulling back all but 4 seconds. After crossing the finish line, he collapsed and lost consciousness. He came to after receiving oxygen and was asked if he was OK. His reply was “yes, but I am not ready for a woman straight away” (and that, my friends, is how it’s done).

At the end of a fantastic season thus far, Roche arrived in Austria for Worlds with little training under his belt. In the role of domestique to his countryman Sean Kelly, Roche was covering breaks all day. At the end, he was still covering Argentin, and being away, attacked at 500m. He got the cycling world’s ‘Triple Crown’, a feat only achieved by one other hardman, Merckx. A few days later, Kelly and he went 1-2 at the Nissan Classic.

Had Roche not been plagued by recurring knee injuries, I think he would have given the King a run for his money as the toughest bastard to ever throw his leg over a top tube.

“I never want to abandon my bike. I see my grandfather, now in his seventies and riding around everywhere. To me that is beautiful. And the bike must always remain a part of my life.” – Stephen Roche.

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61 Replies to “Guest Article: Stephen Roche; A Study in The V”

  1. Nice one. I was/am a big Roche fan, so it’s always good to see people giving him props.

    (It’s Argentin, btw. No ‘e’.)

  2. Great stuff. The Irish riders deserve more attention as hardmen of the older tradition. In addition to the Irish heritage, I married an Irishwoman. This has taught me almost as much about the V as any cycling experience…

  3. Great story-definitely a hard man. Gonna have to remember the line “not ready for a woman straightaway” and use it appropriately!

  4. Nice one, laddie. I remember watching that stage when Roche ended up on a stretcher, unfortunately TV never played his remark. That is magic. I must remember that line for when I’m next knocked unconscious. Him winning the Giro, TdF and the Worlds, massive V. No one looked better on a bike, he is pure class. Chapeau

  5. That is all kinds of awesome. Roche was a killer. I love the Irish (in more ways than one!), and will greatly miss ToI this year and St. Patrick’s Hill waterfall in Cork. Nico certainly has the fire of his da, and I would love to see him take a classic in ’12, but do you suppose it was a karma update to poor Nico last year when his French teammate passed him by on Port de Bales in ’10 at TdF? http://joepapp.blogspot.com/2010/07/spare-thought-for-nicolas-roche.html

  6. @Oli
    Where’s my like button on this thing anyway? Kelly was the Points man fo sho, but if it wasn’t for Roche’s knee, well, who knows how many podiums the Irishman would have been on top? BAMF all the way.

  7. @Oli

    Nice one. I was/am a big Roche fan, so it’s always good to see people giving him props.
    (It’s Argentin, btw. No ‘e’.)

    Ha! Thanks Oli, I did know that, but my proof reading skills sharply decline after a couple IPA’s.

  8. Very nice! Good write-up, enjoyed reading this. That last quotation is excellent. Who knows how long I’ll be a roadie. I hope for life, but if not, I still hope riding a bike is part of my daily life. At it’s most basic level, turning those cranks is damn fun. I hope at 70 it reminds me of my youthful days on the bike.

    Just in from 70 k with three friends. Is there anything better than a Sunday morning rolling ride with some mates? And better yet, my friends threw me and the VMH an engagement party last night! Nice. Not only was the party great, but having to ride kept me from indulging too much in the tequila, pivo, and roasted pig.

  9. @Cyclops

    It makes you smarter? That’s funny, it always makes me more witty and attractive to the fairer sex.

    Nice article Scaler! I was wondering when it would be up since you told me about it.

  10. @scaler911, @Cyclops, @mcsqueak
    I think Josh could give a discertation on why an Oatmeal Stout would make you smarter while an IPA makes you a poorer proof-reader (which is not the same as being smarter or dumber).

    @mcsqueak – I’m familiar with the condition where the oposite sex becomes fairer after a few pints…I’ve never seen it have the oposite effect.

    Where is that kid when we need ‘im?

  11. I just finished reading Slaying the Badger by Richard Moore (soon to be added to The Works) and there was an interesting observation made about the Badger’s recurring knee injuries.

    I think that historically we attribute it to a doping-related cause where a rider makes themselves too strong for their joints, though the hypothesis set forth (if I recall correctly, by Paul Köchli) was that it had more to do with his poor training habits throughout the years, where Hinault’s form would fall off too much in the winter, then he would train himself into form very quickly, putting too much stress on his joints.

    Some better training habits and his knee problem cleared up for ’85 and ’86. I wonder if the same was for Roche and if just having some better sports medicine available might have altered the course of our little history.

  12. Didn’t Roche also suffer from a back injury? I seem to recall him dropping out of the ’89 Tour with back trouble, but maybe I’m mixing my Oatmeal Stouts and IPAs.

  13. The Irish on bikes, back in the day, were tough as nails. I always worshiped Kelly as a god of toughness and sublime understatement (don’t forget the accent, still priceless at this years Tour – “boyik” – as an example). Thank you for reminding me of Stephens accomplishments in the go until you can’t any more department. An acquaintance who has recently hung out with Roche said that he would say just the same today if knocked out.

    @frank
    I am not sure it was just the training – I mean if one had the tenacity, machismo and killer instinct of the Badger wouldn’t our knees be pulled apart at the joint?

  14. I’m also forever in the debt of Oli’s latest greatest invention as well, he calls it “spell check”.

    I should be able to lay claim to inventing being a smartarse soon.

  15. @frank

    Didn’t Roche also suffer from a back injury? I seem to recall him dropping out of the ’89 Tour with back trouble, but maybe I’m mixing my Oatmeal Stouts and IPAs.

    Not sure. I’ll look into it. You must be back home, ’cause last time I was in Maui, I could only find crappy domestics and Longboard from Kona.
    BTW, thanks for letting me do the article!

    @Ron
    Thanks (@all really). And congratulations on the pending nuptials!

  16. Maybe it’s because i’m Italian or it’s because I’ve seen others champions acting in a totally different way, or because, I know, Visentini was totally devastated by Roche behaviour and never recovered from it, I don’t know… What I know is that I really don’t like him, as a cyclist.

  17. Nice reminder of why Roche was a great cyclist @scaler911.

    Both quotes are worthy of inclusion. The first showing a great sense of (Irish) humour and the closing a reminder of what the bike can mean to an individual. Great stuff

  18. @Pedale.Forchetta

    Maybe it’s because i’m Italian or it’s because I’ve seen others champions acting in a totally different way, or because, I know, Visentini was totally devastated by Roche behaviour and never recovered from it, I don’t know… What I know is that I really don’t like him, as a cyclist.

    I know what you mean, although 87/88 was a legendary time for him, I don’t know, i have always found it hard to connect with him as a cyclist in the way i could with Kelly, Tchmil, Indurain or latterly, Pantani, Museeuw, Bartoli (don’t ask), or today Phil Gil. Likewise Cancellara, admiration, i guess, like or fandom, not really. Weird.

  19. @Ron
    hang onto the memories of your engagement party. It will be one of the last times in your life that you are truly happy.

    And enjoy your leisurely rides with mates – you are being drawn inexorably towards the life-sapping vortex that includes 5am ride starts so you can get home to take kids to weekend sport.

    Your life as you know is one step closer to being over.

    And there are a few other things you should try to get whenever you can between now and your impending date with doom…

  20. @Marcus
    Not necessarily. My wife is fully supportive of my riding. She tears me a new one for holding back at races. She is thinking of going to massage school just so she can be a better soignier for me and this morning she apologized for being cranky yesterday at the Tour of Utah. It was a hundred degrees and she got fussy with me dragging he up and down the course looking for prime spectating spots. And it was her idea to pull the trigger on the LOOK 586. She’s a keeper.

  21. @Cyclops

    @Marcus Not necessarily. My wife is fully supportive of my riding. She tears me a new one for holding back at races. She is thinking of going to massage school just so she can be a better soignier for me and this morning she apologized for being cranky yesterday at the Tour of Utah. It was a hundred degrees and she got fussy with me dragging he up and down the course looking for prime spectating spots. And it was her idea to pull the trigger on the LOOK 586. She’s a keeper.

    Of dear Cycley. She has got you fooled.

    Are you familiar with The Universal Spousal Law of Expenditure, WS = 2HS

    where HS equals Husbandly Spend on anything
    and WS equals corresponding Wifely Spend made in response to HS?

    You know your 586 cost you 3 times what you think it cost?

  22. @Cyclops

    My wife is fully supportive of my riding. She tears me a new one for holding back at races.

    I know what you mean. I’m editing the footage mine shot on Haleakala. I just finished the last section where she yells, “Fuckin’ stomp the pedals! DO IT, BITCH!”

    @Marcus
    I bought an R3, I bought her an R3SL. I bought Zipp 404’s, I got some for her. She hates jewelry, thankfully, but each bike purchase I make does mean I have to keep her in a slightly better bike. That gets expensive with these types of bikes.

  23. @Ron
    one of the things you will find is that everyone will have advice for you on the pros and cons of getting married, based on their own marriagometer readings

    my advice is don’t stop doing anything just because you are married, as it can be harder to restart stuff again later – adding kids will bring a natural reorder which is beyond your control

    stopping stuff doesn’t make your VMH happy, blokes just think it does – other halves have short term memories and get over resentment quickly, so bite the bullet and keep your hobbies, they might be all you are left with at the end of the day!

    hope it all goes well for you

  24. @Dr C

    @Ron one of the things you will find is that everyone will have advice for you on the pros and cons of getting married, based on their own marriagometer readings
    my advice is don’t stop doing anything just because you are married, as it can be harder to restart stuff again later – adding kids will bring a natural reorder which is beyond your control
    stopping stuff doesn’t make your VMH happy, blokes just think it does – other halves have short term memories and get over resentment quickly, so bite the bullet and keep your hobbies, they might be all you are left with at the end of the day!
    hope it all goes well for you

    In other words Ron, you are fucked just like Vincent.

  25. @Pedale.Forchetta

    @Zoncolan
    I kind of know what you mean, I’m Irish (as in actually born and raised there), in my early 40’s (just) so I grew up with Kelly and Roche (and yes we always seemed to put it in that order). I never really connected either, and I may not be correct here but the Irish population seemed to connect more with Kelly. Roche’s achievements couldn’t be argued with, he is probably our greatest international sportsman (we’re a small nation that mostly play sports no one has heard of) he was always approachable at the races in Ireland and UK but yet while Kelly was incapable of being really coherent to a camera, his rural unassuming demeanour always made him more popular. Still, Roche got me hooked in 87, Kelly kept me hooked.

  26. Speaking of awesome video (and photos) I know lots of Aussies read the Cycling Tips blog but for anyone who doesn’t/hasn’t check this out.

    http://www.cyclingtipsblog.com/2011/08/three-weeks-in-july-in-three-minutes/#disqus_thread

    And on marriage, yes I agree with Dr C. It’s very much based on the marriageometer. My wife is tolerably indulgent of my riding and bike expenditure, and I probably spend more on bike stuff than she does on personal items so I can’t complain.

    It’s not the marriage that locks you down, it’s the kids. Of course they make up for it in other ways… then they become teenagers.

    The answer of course is to get the kids into cycling. My middle one is a keen cyclist – he’s not competitive but he’ll just grind away at something, not caring if he’s the best or not. Born to audax I suspect.

    I have a plan that when he’s about 16-17, and I’m 50 we will do some sort of cycling odyssey. I would really like to cycle the length of the US – follow the Mississippi down to New Orleans, but I suspect that the dangers of being run over are rather too high for my liking. Have ruled out Land’s End-JOG for the same reason.

    So I’m open to suggestion. Maybe something in Australia – What would it be like to cycle along the Great Ocean Road ?

  27. Nice read. Brief and bright! I always am/was a fan of the Irish cyclist. Tough guys. But there are also tough girls … from the other isle close-by. British cyclist Emma Pooley won the Alpenbrevet “Gold” tour (~170 km, 5300 m t.c. in only 6h48min). She bet the fastest man by 5 min and the 2nd placed woman by 85 min! I would like to see her climbing the Volcano …

  28. @scaler911

    Nice stuff mate.

    I was never a huge fan of Roche, but I remember his ride in a Tour in the early 90’s, a mountain top finish, coming through the thick fog… it was a bit of a swansong for him at the time, not a GC contender anymore, but still with plenty of class to make his mark one more time.

  29. Ah, La Bourboule – his final Tour stage win. That’s a classic bit of imagery in my mind also, Bretto.

  30. @ChrisO
    “I have a plan that when he’s about 16-17, and I’m 50 we will do some sort of cycling odyssey. I would really like to cycle the length of the US – follow the Mississippi down to New Orleans, but I suspect that the dangers of being run over are rather too high for my liking. Have ruled out Land’s End-JOG for the same reason.

    So I’m open to suggestion. Maybe something in Australia – What would it be like to cycle along the Great Ocean Road ?”

    Not sure the GOR is long enough to qualify as an odyssey. But you question does make one consider what would qualify here in Aust.

    For the type of trip you suggest, maybe circumnavigate Tasmania or ride Melb to Adelaide to see the Tour Down Under? Nullabor would be a tad dodgy, a great adventure if you survived. Cairns to Brisbane would be epic or Bris to Cairns for that matter. A few of us have talked about doing a BIG ride someday, might have to prod that idea along a bit I think.

  31. @anotherdownunder

    Ah, OK, I thought the GOR went all the way along from Melbourne to Adelaide. Presumably it’s part of that route though ? So riding to the TDU sounds like a good idea actually – I like that.

    I’ve got five years before it’s due, but I’m up for a practice run in UK/Europe next year if any Euro-Velominati fancy it.

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