By Stephen McMahon
After the demise of Crédit Agricole, Nicolas Roche made the move to another French squad, AG2R - La Mondiale. Recently the talented Irishman turned out for his new squad as it prepared for next season in the cold of Le Temple-sur-Lot, in the Lot-et-Garonne region.
Unlike last year, the changes to the team are relatively small in terms of personnel and equipment, and the platform is set for a successful 2009. The same can be said for Roche. After seasons with Cofidis and Crédit Agricole, Roche's reputation as an aggressive all-rounder is well established and 2008 was undoubtedly his most successful season so far, A close-run second place in stage 18 of the Vuelta a España means that much is expected of the 24-year-old in 2009.
According to Roche, he aims to be competitive at Paris-Nice and the Ardennes classics during the early season, while another start in one of the year's Grand Tours should be a certainty. While patiently posing for photographs in the brisk conditions he spoke about his racing schedule for the season ahead and became particularly animated at the prospect of riding with the sun on his back again at the Tour Down Under in January.
Le Temple-sur-Lot is a long way from the summer temperatures on offer at the Tour Down Under next month, although AG2R - La Mondiale's riders have been putting in four and five hour sessions on rolling roads which are, in the majority, well surfaced and quiet. It's a small mercy, as the weather has been consistently cold, wet and completely devoid of sunshine.
While riders and management attend a post-training meeting, the team mechanics clean, service and carry out upgrade work on the riders' BH mounts. As in 2008, the team's bicycles will be equipped with Campagnolo and FSA components for the coming season, with Mavic providing wheels and Michelin supplying the rubber. Elite bottle cages, Time pedals, and Prologo saddles complete the line up.