John Gadret and Nicolas Roche don't get on. There have been diplomatic comments coming from both of them in the past few days. Gadret has said he would be willing to work for Roche at the Tour and Roche has congratulated Gadret on his stage win in the Giro. But it still seems to me like they don't get on.
Gadret performed beyond all expectations in the Giro to finish fourth. This is the best performance by a Frenchman in the Giro since Laurent Jalabert also managed fourth in the 1999 edition. It has been decided for some time, after last year's results in both the Tour and the Vuelta, that Roche would be the leader once again for the Tour de France. But Gadret's recent fourth place seems to have thrown a spanner in the works.
It is easy to dismiss Gadret's chances for this year's Tour having completed such a murderous Giro route, one of the most brutal in recent memory. I've already been guilty of this, pointing one finger toward last year's Tour failures Ivan Basso, Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins - all of whom rode the Giro. While also pointing another finger at the top 10 in last year's Tour - none of whom rode the Giro.
On the face of it, it seems that it is almost impossible to perform well in the Tour having completed three weeks of outrageously difficult racing around Italy. But if we dig a little deeper, things start to look a lot less comfortable for Nicolas Roche.
Of the 198 riders who took to the startline of the Giro d'Italia last year, 43 of them also started the Tour. One of them was John Gadret. Of those 43 riders, only 25 of them managed to finish both Grand Tours. One of them was John Gadret. And of those 25 riders, there were just two who finished in the top 20 of both races. One of them was John Gadret.
And the other was Carlos Sastre, a Tour de France winner and one of the most consistent Grand Tour racers of all time.
So can Gadret perform well in this year's Tour having put in such a big effort in the Giro? He has already shown last year that it is a distinct possibility. Also, he is not a whippersnapper. He is 32 years old and even though he was a relative late-comer to professional road cycling, he has more Grand Tours in his legs than Roche.
Infamously, Gadret refused to give Roche a wheel on the climb to Bagnéres-de-Luchon on Stage 15 of last year's Tour. Furthermore, Gadret attacked from the lead group as Roche was behind attempting to claw back the time he had lost in waiting for a spare wheel. Unfortunately, Roche is now perhaps best known amongst the wider media for his reaction to this incident in his column in the Irish Independent where he said:
If John Gadret is found dead in his hotel room in the morning, I will probably be the primary suspect...I had great difficulty in not putting his head through the nearest window.
Of course this was written shortly after the stage and Roche's emotions would still have been fairly out of control. But this was not an oral interview with the busy reporters at the finish line before Roche had even gotten off his bike. This was a piece of writing for a newspaper.
Now I'm not sure what way Roche works out the details of his column with his ghostwriter Ger Cromwell. Perhaps Roche types the material and sends it off in an email. Or perhaps he dictates over a phone, I don't know. But either way, Roche did have a certain amount of time to consider what he would say, and perhaps even had time to call the paper and ask them to change a sentence here and there after a bit of reflection.
Even so, these are not the actions of a rider who had huge love for Gadret before the incident happened. To me, they are the words and actions of a rider who never liked Gadret anyway.
Gadret has said in the past week:
If I go to the Tour, it will be as a support rider for [Jean Christophe] Péraud and [Nicolas] Roche...if I go to the Tour, it will not be to aim for the general classification
However, he augments this promise by also stating:
...unless I feel very strong or if Vincent [Lavenu, general manager] asks me to fight. But we'll have to wait for the races like the Critérium du Dauphiné to see where Péraud and Roche are, physically. Then we can make an initial assessment as the Tour approaches.
It seems Gadret hasn't ruled out riding for the G.C. himself again. Let's not forget, Gadret was the best placed Frenchman last year, and should he start, he is well placed to achieve that title once more. Only Christophe Moreau and Richard Virenque have been best placed Frenchman in the Tour more than once since Hinault's last overall win in 1985.
If I was Roche, I would be investing time during the Dauphiné to take a leaf out of his father's book and maybe lend a helping hand to those riders and teams who will have less ambitious goals during the Tour de France. It may transpire, depending on how popular Gadret is amongst his own team, that Nicolas Roche will not have the full backing of each of his team-mates throughout the Tour.
Stephen Roche once said to Cycle Sport magazine:
These spontaneous alliances are part of being a good diplomat, and are formed on a ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ principle. They know it could happen that on another stage they’ll get away and you will turn a blind eye. You know that’s why he’s doing it, not because you’ve got blue eyes.
Although a repeat of what Roche snr. endured during the 1987 Giro is highly unlikely, but it is now, in races like the Dauphiné that Roche jnr. should be laying out favours that he may cash in on if necessary during the race that really matters to him in July.
Photo by Susie Hartigan for the Podium Cafe