Stephen Roche Image Name: Stephen Roche
Road cycling is one of the world’s toughest, most exacting sports. It brings people to the very outer limits of the their physical and mental capacity. The cycling calendar contains many races but three tower over all of the others. The first is May’s Giro d’Italia-three weeks through the most challenging terrain Italy has to offer. July sees the Tour De France, cycling’s toughest test through the torture chambers of the Alps and Pyrenees. Finally, September, brings the World Championships a single six and a half hour race to see who will spend the following year wearing the rainbow jersey of champion of the world.

To win any one of these races is to enter sporting history, to win all three in the same season was thought unattainable until the legendary Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx achieved it in 1974. Many believed it was a feat could never be repeated. But it was, on a cold September day in Austria in 1987, by a maintenance fitter from Dundrum in South Dublin who hailed from a small cycling club called Orwell Wheelers. His name, Stephen Roche.

The night before he left Ireland to seek his fortune in the tough world of continental cycling, a family friend said to Roche that everybody expected him to go once around the Eiffel Tower and come home. He made him promise not to return. Roche eventually did, but as the world’s number one cyclist.

A new season of the the multi-award winning Documentary on One kicks off on the 15th July with the story of this incredible season 30 years ago. It re-lives the chaos and drama of the Giro D’Italia, when Roche had to battle his own team and the furious Italian public to win the race under police escort. It tells the story of the Tour De France’s famous stage to the ski station of La Plagne where Roche had surely lost the race being minutes back from his biggest rival, Pedro Delgado. Roche battled up the climb and almost caught Delgado on the line to save the race. He collapsed off his bike, receiving oxygen from an ambulance crew. The World Championships were no less dramatic. Roche rode the race for the great Irish sprinter Sean Kelly. In the last 200 metres of the race he found himself in the leading group and had to make a go for the line himself. He won, completing an extraordinary treble that to this day has never been repeated.

The Orwell Wheeler draws on original interviews with Roche himself, Eddy Schepers (the Belgian rider who stood by Roche through thick and thin), the former world number one Sean Kelly and Phil Liggett, the voice of cycling amongst many others.