This book takes the Grand Tour diaries Nico Roche wrote for the Irish Daily Star and the Irish Independent and weaves them around his life story to date. It was last year’s prestigious Bord Gais Energy Irish Sports Book of the Year, beating off some highly reputable contenders such as Paul Kimmage’s Engage, Ronnie Whelan’s Walk On and autobiographies by jockey Tony McCoy and Irish rugby star Donncha O’Callaghan.
The diaries, written just after the finish of each respective Grand Tour stage, lay bare the paucity of glamour in the life of a professional cyclist. We’re spared none of the gory details from the various ills which plague him and his teammates to the highs and lows on the road. We’re treated to little vignettes of temper, tears and tantrums, plus team politics. At times it’s quite amusing. But it’s more pain than glory, less thrills and plenty of tedium.
Nonetheless his writing gives the reader real insight in what it’s like to ride a Grand Tour. You also gain an understanding of the regime and the training you need to follow and the sacrifices you need to make to become a professional cyclist.
My principal takeaway from the book is the overwhelming weight of expectation to perform. Nico doesn’t want to disappoint his team mates, his fans or his family. Inevitably – and unfairly – comparisons are made with his father Stephen Roche, who burst onto the cycling scene and enjoyed almost instant success, subsequently winning the holy trinity of Giro, Tour and World Championship in 1987. Comparisons across the decades are invidious. But that’s not all, Nico also faces comparisons with his younger cousin, Garmin-Cervelo’s Dan Martin. However it’s clear that, instead of resenting it, Nico rejoices in his cousin’s successes and his dad’s legacy.
Nico’s progress has been far more measured. While injuries in 2011 prevented him from building on solid Grand Tour results in 2010, the points from his stage win in the Tour of Beijing helped keep his team in cycling’s premier league.
One’s left with the sneaking sentiment that, while Nico’s always ridden for French teams, his ambitions might better be served on a non-French team. In any event, I’ll be keeping a close eye on him in the 2012 season when I hope he’s going to finally confound his critics. Frankly, it couldn’t happen to a nicer chap.