By his own admission, Nicolas Roche is normally an athlete who takes a couple of months to ride into form. He has shown promising early-season condition in his first race, though, going on the attack on yesterday’s fourth stage of the Etoile de Bessèges with several other riders.
While Roche played down the significance of the move afterwards, the fact that he was able to go clear when a substantial chunk of the peloton went backwards on the hilly stage shows that he means business. He and his four breakaway companions were caught just three kilometres from the end of the stage, but he’s hit the ground running in his first race of 2010.
“The idea for the first few days was to take it handy, to get the rhythm back,” he said after the stage. “Then yesterday [Friday] I tried on the last climb to open up a bit for today. Today, I told the team I wanted to attack on a few climbs to get everything going.
“I attacked when there were three riders out in front. I caught one guy [another chaser] on the climb and he took my wheel. They were five of us. Hoogerland wasn’t pulling as his team-mate had the jersey; even though he was losing the jersey, he still wouldn’t ride.
“We got caught with less than three kilometres to go, but I was happy enough as I said I wanted to do a good days work. Going up the road is nothing to be excited about, as such, but I was happy enough that I was climbing okay, that was more important. I don’t feel great yet, but it is good to know that I am going okay even though my form is not as good as it can be.”
Roche had a strong 2009 season, taking five top-ten results on stages of his first Tour de France, as well as finishing 23rd overall. The Irish road race champion rode well in several other events, but wants to step things up a level in 2010. With that in mind, he’s worked on keeping his race down in the off-season.
“I am now more or less a kilo over my Tour weight. I was a good four kilos heavier at this time last year, so hopefully it will make a different to my climbing,” he said prior to the start of Bessèges.
Last year, former world number one Sean Kelly pinpointed this area as one that Roche should work upon if he wanted to become a GC contender in major events. With overall placings of 13th in the Vuelta a España and 23rd in the Tour de France, the potential is clearly there.
“I think he could be a good Grand Tour rider if he was able to become a little lighter,” Kelly told Cyclingnews. Providing Roche pares off another couple of kilos between now and the Tour – and doesn’t lose strength in doing so – then he should benefit from a better power to weight ratio on the cols.
Roche stated prior to the start of Bessèges that his goal in the race was simply to find his rhythm prior to a slightly bigger target. “Next week I am doing the Tour of the Mediterranean so hopefully that will go well,” he said. “The Tour of the Med is a bit more important than this week’s race, as normally it is a warm-up for me. Bessèges is normally a sprinters’ race so I will try to just get the legs going and put things back in order.
“There are two stages that I would like to do well in at the Tour of the Med,” he continued. “There is a finish in Biot, which has a one and a half kilometre uphill sprint finish. That is one of the stages that I would like, and it is also about two kilometres from where I used to live before and it is five kilometres away from dad’s hotel. So it is a place I know really well, like my home.
“Then the other one would be Mont Faron, of course, because it would be the first mountain stage of the year. I want to see how I am compared to the other riders.”
After the Tour of the Mediterranean, he will ride the GP dell'Insubria and GP Lugano in Switzerland, then head to Paris-Nice, Volta a Catalunya, Route Adelie, Paris-Camembert, Amstel Gold, Flèche, Liège, and the Tour of Romandie. Roche will then take part in a short training camp before riding the Dauphiné Libéré, the Irish road race championships and, hopefully, the Tour de France.
“The idea is to build up the condition slowly until Paris-Nice, and then have a nice time in March and April. I will be going to Paris-Nice, Catalunya, the Classics and Romandy to try to get a result in one of those races.”
With runner-up placings on stages of the Vuelta and Tour de France, Roche has gone close to a big victory. He’s now 26 years of age, coming into his prime, and is determined to start topping podiums in 2010.
“A few years ago, if I had to lay out my goals, I would have hoped to have double my wins by now,” he said. “When I took my first win on a stage of the Tour de l’Avenir, I thought that would get things moving. I said, ‘okay, this is it. My confidence is rising and I am going to win ten races next year,’ but that didn’t happen.
“I am running behind my own schedule. Hopefully I will win a bit more. That’s something that I need to do – I have to get some wins now. I’ve shown I can get good results, but I need to move up the next step and get some victories.”