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 Méditerranéen. 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."
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 bodes well for a good season.
The 24-year-old is an aggressive rider, but 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 Méditerranéen I attacked with Mauricio Soler on Mont Faron, but eventually he dropped me. 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. We got up to a four-minute 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; he got away temporarily with seven others on the Côte de Fayence climb. "I attacked with [David] Moncoutié with one kilometre to go, but he counter-attacked with 400 metres remaining and [eventual stage and overall winner] Voeckler came flying past me from behind."
Next up for him are the Swiss races GP Insubria and GP di Lugano, taking place on Saturday and Sunday. After that he'll ride Paris-Nice, Milano-Sanremo, Critérium-International, GP Indurain, Vuelta al País Vasco, Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.