Handshake-gate:

Roche heads into the Pyrenees with podium on his mind

Reuters
Team Saxo-Tinkoff's rider Roche wins the second stage of the Tour of Spain "La Vuelta" cycling race
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Team Saxo-Tinkoff's rider Nicolas Roche of France wins the second stage of the Tour of Spain "La Vuelta" …

By Alasdair Fotheringham

CASTELLDEFELS, Spain (Reuters) - Ireland's Nicolas Roche, son of Tour de France and Giro d'Italia winner Stephen, is making a name for himself in the Vuelta - the one Grand Tour which eluded his father.

As the Tour of Spain heads into the Pyrenees on Saturday for three stages, Roche is second overall, 33 seconds down on Italian leader Vincenzo Nibali.

"My father and I talk a lot on the phone, he's giving me advice all the time," Roche told a small group of reporters on Friday.

"I think he's very happy right now," he said of his illustrious dad, who in 1987 won the Giro, Tour and world championship.

Saxo-Tinkoff rider Roche briefly wore the race leader's red jersey after stage eight to become the first Irishman to do so since Sean Kelly won the Vuelta outright in 1988.

The 29-year-old's previous best finish in a Grand Tour is sixth, in the 2010 Vuelta, but he is now aiming much higher.

"I'm so close to the podium I can't help but say it's an objective.

"But I've got to stay focused, really watch (race leader Vincenzo) Nibali and stay calm," he said, adding that joining Saxo-Tinkoff and twice Tour de France winner Alberto Contador had bolstered his stage-racing ambitions.

"I've been at the same level for years and been lacking a little something, having a strong team like Saxo-Tinkoff has helped make a difference this season, it's increased my motivation a lot.

"In this year's Tour de France, every morning I saw how Alberto would get up and start thinking straight away about how he could win back some time that day."

"(Overall winner Chris) Froome was very strong, but Alberto never gave up, he was 300 percent concentrated on it. That was something I really respected. Alberto is one of the toughest guys I know."

The Pyrenean leg of the Vuelta starts on the mountains of Andorra on Saturday and Roche thought the three stages would be very important.

"By Monday we'll know a lot more about who's going to win this race."

Saxo-Tinkoff team director Tristan Hoffman was confident Roche would be on the podium in Madrid on September 15.

"I think he's in the best shape he's ever been, he did a very good time trial (on Wednesday) and that was a great sign," he told Reuters.

"The third week is where it will be toughest, but he's still got some fuel left in the tank. In the Tour de France he wasn't at top form. Now, he is."

(Editing by Alison Wildey)

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