By Shane Stokes
A good run of results in recent French Cup races has led to Crédit Agricole's Nicolas Roche being selected to line up in the 2007 Giro d'Italia, one of his big targets for the season.
Earlier this year, the 22 year-old named participation in the Italian Tour as one of his goals, knowing that lining up in the race will help him to become stronger and more experienced as a rider, and pave the way for bigger results in the years ahead.
He secured his place on the squad with a series of good results in the past week. One week ago [last Tuesday] he was ninth in the Paris-Camembert Lepetit race, then placed sixth in the Grand Prix de Denain two days later. On Saturday he was a solid 13th in the Tour du Finistère, then he took his third top ten placing in four races when he was ninth in the bunch sprint which decided the Tro Bro Léon on Sunday. Each of the races are 1.1 ranked French Cup events. Despite missing several of the races he is currently 12th in that series, and fifth in the young rider ranking.
Roche has never ridden a three week Tour. He is five or six years off the age when most cyclists come into their prime for such events, and so has set a realistic target for his first Giro.
"Finishing is definitely a goal, of course," he told Cyclingnews on Tuesday morning. "Hopefully I would like to be up there [on the attack] on a few stages, not just be in there and struggling. I am going to pinpoint some stages where I think I can try and fight for the breaks. I will do some research beforehand as I don't want to be going too hard if the next day is a top mountain stage, because I will not be giving myself a chance. I will study the course on the internet, seeing which days I can plan to attack and which days are better for me to stay in the bunch."
It is a voyage of discovery, of sorts, and so he doesn't know what to expect. "Three weeks is going to be a long time and I don't know how I will react. I could perhaps go well in the first week, not so good in the second week and then feel a bit better in the third week, or it could be the opposite. I have no idea."
Roche will be taking part in the race on the twentieth anniversary of his father's victory in the 1987 edition. Stephen Roche triumphed in the Italian tour one month before going on to win the Tour de France and world road race championships that year.
He played down any suggestion that he will be fired up to do well because his father won the race twenty years ago. "To be honest, it won't really be a big factor because I think I have sufficient motivation myself... I don't think I need extra motivation. Of course, if I do well, I will be happy to do so on the 20th anniversary of my dad's success. But then on the other hand, I am not going to [automatically] do well just because it is the 20th year."
Although he is a talented rider in his own right, he showed that he has his feet firmly on the ground. "There is not a Stephen Roche around every corner," he said.
Mark Scanlon was the last Irishman to take part in a Grand Tour. He finished the Tour de France in 2004, eleven years after Stephen Roche rode the race for the last time, and then rode 12 stages of the 2006 Giro d'Italia. Ciarán Power completed the Italian race in 2000.
The 2007 Giro d'Italia will begin in Sardegna on May 12, and runs until June 3.