Nicolas Roche (Ag2R-La Mondiale) doesn't expect a knee injury developed at his team's training camp this week to effect the start of his 2011 season, which is due to get underway at Étoile de Bessèges next week in France.
The 26-year-old Irishman returned home from the team's final pre-season training camp in Aups, near Nice, on Thursday and told Cyclingnews that a planned MRI scan had been cancelled with the team confident the injury isn't serious. Roche had suffered knee problems mid-way through last season, but recovered strongly to produce the most successful season of his career.
"It's a different pain than last year and it's a bit more protracted than tendonitis but it should only be two or three days," said Roche. "We had booked an MRI for Thursday, but I got back on the bike the day after we organised it and it felt more muscular so we decided to give it another couple of days and we'll give it another check."
While the injury has restricted the intensity of his training, it hasn't seen Roche miss a day on his bike and he is ready to commence a race programme similar to last year, which culminated in his seventh place overall finish at the Vuelta a España. He expects to return to the Vuelta, with the Tour de France also on his schedule.
"My first race will be Bessèges, then I'll go to Portugal for the Tour of Algarve and then GP Insubria, GP Lugano, Paris-Nice, the Tour of Catalunya, Paris-Camembert, Fleche and Liege, then Bayern-Rundfardt, the Tour de Suisse, [Irish] national championships, the Tour de France, San Sebastian and the Vuelta," he said.
"It's pretty set, but it can always change. Like last week when we were told we're not riding California when it had been planned for me. I wanted to ride California, but I'll do a training camp and Bayern-Rundfardt instead. So there's bound to be little changes, but that will be the main line through the season."
Time for The Tour again
Roche expects to return to the Tour de France, where he led Ag2R in 2010, recording a number of top-five stage finishes on his way to 15th overall. His was the only French team to be granted automatic entry to the race by virtue of their ProTeam status. While Roche admitted that it is a fact not lost on the squad as a whole, it won't increase the pressure he already places on himself.
"[Our team manager] Vincent Lavenu has been pretty clear about it every time we've had a main briefing. He's often mentioned the fact that we're the only French ProTeam and that the place isn't guaranteed forever and that there's a line of teams ready to take our place. At the end of the day I'm happy to be part of that French ProTeam, but I don't think there has to be a 'war' between the other French teams - I hope not at least because that would lead to very negative racing," he said.
"I think I put enough pressure on myself without considering that we're the only French ProTeam. A good year would be something similar to last year; a very good year would be something similar to last year with a win," he said, with a laugh. "A poor year would be being out of form all year, chasing form all year and not doing the racing right. I would be disappointed if I didn't meet expectations. Every year I just try to work on the details and improve, so I'd be frustrated if I saw my improvement slowing down or stopping now."
Although 2010 saw him step up a notch in terms of his future prospects at the Grand Tours, he has not lost sight of other targets on his calendar. He pinpointed the Tour of Catalunya as one of his major goals for 2011.
"A race I really like is the Tour of Catalunya so that would be one of my major goals for the year, for overall and stage wins," he said. "I had high finishes on a number of stages and finished fifth overall. I think that it's a race that suits me but it'll be hard this year because of the mountain-top finish at Andorra. But Catalunya's never easy so it should be a nice, tough race."