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Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) nears the finish at Luz-Ardiden.
Irishman in the hunt for overall Tour de France top-10
Nicolas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale) had mixed feelings about his showing on the Tour de France's first summit finish at Luz-Ardiden. Although the Irishman was dropped from the yellow jersey group before the midpoint of the final climb, he gauged his effort well in the finale and ended the day in tenth place overall. Philippe Gilbert's audacious attack on the descent to Lourdes lifted him past Roche on Friday but the Irishman will surely move up overall on Saturday's testing stage to Plateau de Beille.
Speaking to Cyclingnews Roche conceded that given his troubled build-up to the Tour, the glass was half full after the race's first major rendezvous.
"I'm satisfied and disappointed," Roche said. "I'm satisfied because if I look back at things with all my crashes and injuries, the last time I was on a similar climb was at the Vuelta a year ago. So for a first effort it wasn't so bad, but on the other hand, I was hoping to go a bit better."
Leopard Trek were prominent in setting a high pace on the lower slopes of Luz-Ardiden on Thursday but Roche only lost contact with the yellow jersey group when Liquigas-Cannondale's Sylvester Szmyd seized the initiative with eight kilometres to go. In spite of being dropped at that early juncture, however, Roche kept his cool to limit his losses to two minutes at the summit. The lessons of his top ten finish at last season's Vuelta a España helped him to set a sensible tempo.
"I didn't panic and said it was better I got dropped then and kept a really steady rhythm which I wasn't able to do the other times," Roche explained. "Usually I can hang in, hang in and then when I blow, I blow."
Roche was also able to rely on teammate Hubert Dupont to pace him on the upper section of the climb. "I knew Hubert was strong and we had [Christophe] Riblon up on the Tourmalet," he said. "I knew I could count on them and that they would set the pace."
Early mountain improvement
The Irishman has tended to struggle on the first day in the mountains at the Grand Tours, but he took consolation from the fact that Luz-Ardiden was an improvement on his showings on the opening climbs of last season's Tour and Vuelta.
"Last year in Morzine I lost a fair bit of time on the first climb, and the year before in Andorra as well," Roche said. "The same thing happened at the Vuelta in Andorra last year too. I always lose a bit of time on the first day in the mountains and then I get better as the weeks go by. Here, because I ran late with the crash and the preparation, I should only progress – hopefully!"
Although Robert Gesink, Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Bradley Wiggins are among the riders already out of the running for a place in the top 10 in Paris, Roche does not believe his task will be made any easier by their absence.
"There are always new guys coming in as well, like [Arnold] Jeannesson and Voeckler seems to be on a top year as well," Roche pointed out.
"A rider might go out, but there are always surprises there as well. It's part of the race. Nobody cried when I was on the ground at the Dauphiné, and that's fair enough."