World Champion road cyclist, Giro and Tour de France winner Stephen Roche jetted into London on Wednesday from his home in the South of France to give an exclusive masterclass at the Herne Hill Velodrome in South London. Ride Velo were lucky enough to be invited along and receive the benefit of his wisdom.
The event was organised to promote the London Cycle Sportive on June 26th which starts in nearby Dulwich Park, incorporates Box Hill in Surrey, before returning to the 1948 Olympic velodrome. Ten lucky journalists and media types, including Ian Cleverly editor of Rouleur Magazine, were invited along. Most of the reporters were new to track cycling but everyone benefitted from Stephen Roche's experience whether beginner or expert.
As you know, Ride Velo is practically a pro now at the Herne Hill Velodrome (cough), having inducted back in January, and listened with the interest as seasoned track coach Joseph guided us through our initiation and finishing with a game of team pursuit. As the only woman on the piste, I enjoyed the leisurely pace that Stephen set. However, when he pulled off to the back of the group, the young male riders at the front set a breakneck pace and I struggled to keep up!
Any track cyclist will know the importance of staying on the wheel of the rider in front of you, especially in the 30mph winds we experienced that afternoon. But I was nervous about riding with just one wheel's distance from the inexperienced riders in front of me! That was until Stephen rode alongside and kept pace with me to the finish line, breathless with exertion in ... last place (me, that is, not Stephen).
After the training, Stephen, Robbie and I compared notes about life in the South of France. Stephen lives in Antibes where we had cycled the day before meeting Café du Cycliste. Stephen, and his fellow Irishman and friend Sean Kelly, were known for being the hard men of cycling in their day, winning the tough Monuments many times, famous for being gruelling and prone to bad weather. We asked the tanned Stephen Roche how he found the change in climate (as Herne Hill shivered in the gales and frequent showers) but he replied that the weather in the Cote d'Azur had been almost as bad lately! That was certainly true when we visited last week, but we wondered whether too much time in the Mediterranean has softened up the tough guy? Stephen now runs training camps in Mallorca when he's not in the Riviera - a double whammy of gorgeousness.
Stephen Roche, 56, is father to Team Sky's Nicholas Roche and uncle to Ride Velo favourite Dan Martin. Nick lives in Monaco on the Cote d'Azur too - about 30 miles away from his Dad. Ride Velo rode out to Monte Carlo on our last day in the region and were astonished by the flashy cars, plastic-looking women and the price of a sandwich outside the Casino. Does Nico like living there we wondered? "Oh yes, he likes a bit of bling!" Stephen confirmed. Well I guess teammate Chris Froome does too then! All the Ferrari fumes were a bit much for us...
We asked him about his Stephen Roche Cycling camps and he revealed that Mallorca was becoming very crowded now as it is such a popular place for winter and spring training as people follow the likes of Team Sky who use it as their winter base. He isn't based in Pollensa or Alcudia for this reason - preferring to ride out of flatter Palma Nova just outside the capital. He does take his clients up to the famous Tramuntana mountains, however, although it is becoming ever more perilous.
Stephen revealed a couple of near misses with coach drivers who dominate the notorious Sa Calobra climb. One driver even chased after his group shouting abuse when he'd almost knocked the riders off their bikes! As a rookie reporter, I worked on the Mallorca Daily Bulletin newspaper and can assure you that coach drivers were every bit as terrifying as they are now. A bit like Sa Calobra - I get vertigo just looking at photos of it!
All too soon the session came to an end and it was time to say goodbye. Stephen was keen to get back to his Mediterranean idyll, and who can blame him! Robbie and I practised for a few more laps, with me sticking properly on his wheel this time. Thanks Stephen - and to the team behind The Telegraph London Cycle Sportive - Powered by Maserati, organised by sports events host the humanrace.co.uk. Some places are still available for the event on June 26th which has three routes to choose from: short 48km, medium 104km, and long 166km. Priced from £40. See you there!