It's been a tough start to the year for Nicolas Roche and the AG2R-La Mondiale team: it is already May and the team is the only WorldTour squad which has yet to rack up a victory this year. Roche hopes the team can turn their luck around in the Amgen Tour of California.
The Irishman showed great promise as a Grand Tour rider with solid rides in the 2010 Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana, where he finished 15th and 7th, respectively. His Vuelta performance was his country's highest Grand Tour result since the days of his father Stephen Roche and countryman Sean Kelly.
However, since then Roche's career has been hampered by illness and injury. Last year his Tour de France was impacted by a crash in the Critérium du Dauphiné, but he bounced back to take a stage victory in the Tour of Beijing, but that was his team's last win. Falling ill after Paris-Nice, Roche struggled in the Volta a Catalunya. Now, he's feeling the pressure to not only score a victory but to score points toward keeping AG2R in the WorldTour is mounting.
"I'm hoping to be competitive and come out of Tour of California with a result," Roche told Cyclingnews. "Hopefully I'm already on good condition. The team's going to ride aggressively, go for the breakaways and hopefully get a stage win.
"I'll take it one stage at a time, but stage 1 will already be a tough day. I can't see it being a full bunch sprint. If it's a small group sprint, I can go OK there, but there are some stronger riders like [Peter] Sagan, which are specialists in that case. It's going to be tough to get a win, but the whole team is focused on it."
Roche in theory would share the responsibilities of the overall classification with his Italian teammate Rinaldo Nocentini, but it will depend on who shows the best form. "Nocentini had a very good start to the year, but he stepped back a few weeks ago and he's just getting started again, progressing towards the Tour and the second part of the season, so he might be a little behind on form. I did the other way around, I had a bad start to the season, and now I'm kind of getting there for the Tour hopefully. I'm in kind of no man's land, I don't know where I am at the moment. But I will give it a hard try this week."
Having grown up in France, Roche has spent his entire career racing on French teams, from his amateur days to his start with Cofidis, on to Crédit Agricole and now in his fourth season with AG2R-La Mondiale. Although he has dual citizenship thanks to his mother, he still competes under an Irish license and will vie for one of three spots on Ireland's team for the Olympic Games in London.
"The Olympics is a peculiar race in cycling; it's important but not so important. It's a really personal choice, some see it as a main race, some see it as just another race. I'm pretty motivated about the Olympics. looking back over the years, after the Tour I usually go good at San Sebastian which is usually the weekend after the Tour, when the Olympics are this year. Hopefully I can have a similar scenario and be there for the Olympics."
Roche is not putting extra pressure on himself to get to the Games, however, since his main goals lie at the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana, but with more than 100km of time trial kilometers in the Tour de France this year, Roche isn't sure how he will perform there.
"Time trialing is my downfall. I went to the wind tunnel a few weeks ago to get my position checked out but now I just need to do a lot of work," he said. Part of that work will be the Bakersfield time trial in five days time, where he hopes to test out his form.