By Shane Stokes
Nicolas Roche feels content that he is on track for a good showing in his first big goal of the season, Paris-Nice. The Irish professional has come into decent form earlier than usual this year.
Last month the Ag2r La Mondiale rider placed 13th overall in the Tour Down Under, then finished 20th in the recent Tour of the Mediterranean. The solid run continued with eighth on stage two of the Tour du Haut Var on Sunday.
"This is the first time I have shown early form," he told Cyclingnews. "My legs are okay, my condition is okay and my weight is getting better. I am feeling good and it is a nice sign for Paris-Nice, which is very important for me."
In the past Roche has always hit form later in the season but, several months after finishing an unexpected 13th overall in the Vuelta a España, he appears to have moved up a level. It consequently bodes well for a good season.
The 24-year-old is recognised as an aggressive rider and his final results don't always reveal the effort he has made during the races. He was in the mix in recent events and as his form continues to grow, he will be hoping to translate attacks into victories
"On the last day of the Tour of the Mediterranean I attacked with Mauricio Soler on Mont Faron but eventually he dropped me," he said. "I was then caught for fourth place 300 metres from the top.
"This weekend, I was in a break of 24 on stage one of Haut Var," he added. "We got up to four minutes lead but nobody was working. The gap dropped to one minute and I got away then with 13 riders, but we were caught with seven kilometres to go. I had worked all day so I sat up."
His aggression continued on Sunday's concluding stage, the Irishman getting away temporarily with seven others on the Cote de Fayence climb. "We were clear but no-one worked, even though the yellow jersey was dropped. Then at the end it was an uphill finish. I attacked with Moncoutier with one kilometre to go, but he counterattacked me with 400 metres remaining and [eventual stage and overall winner] Voeckler came flying past me from behind. I cracked 75 metres from the line and got caught by the rest in the gallop."
Next up for him are the Swiss races Gran Premio dell'Insubria and GP di Lugano, taking place on Saturday and Sunday. After that he'll ride Paris-Nice, Milan San Remo, Criterium International, GP Indurain, Tour du Pays Basques, Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.