Having managed to avoid trouble during the opening week of the Tour de France and show that he's not far behind the very best on the climbs, Nicolas Roche (Ag2r La Mondiale) maintained his position in the top-10 on general classification with one of the best time trial performances of his career on the 41.5km route to Besançon.
"I'm not a time trial champion yet, but I think the word that I'd use is that I'm now competitive," he told Cyclingnews.
With his 1987 Tour de France-winning father following in the Ag2r team car behind him, Roche produced a very consistent ride in a discipline where he has struggled. "I'm pretty happy with the way I've performed today. I was hoping with the condition I've got and thanks to the work I've done on my time trialling I would be around 20th," said Roche, who finished up in 23rd place on the day.
"My idea was to not lose more than a minute to the guys who are around eighth to 12th on GC and I think that I've done that and also done one of my best TTs so far," he added.
As the Ag2r leader sat recuperating on the steps of his team's camper-van, Stephen Roche said he'd been hugely impressed with his son's performance. "Nicolas was brilliant, very consistent and strong all the way through. I think that was the best time trial I've seen him ride in a long, long time," said Roche senior, who was one of the best time triallists of his generation.
"He was good in every way – in his pedalling, his cornering, the way he attacked the climbs, the way he backed off when he needed to. Hopefully this will give him confidence for the next one. He's definitely got the ability to time trial, he just hadn't understood that yet. But I think since this Tour started he's gone up a notch mentally and physically."
Having got three tricky days out of the way, the Ag2r rider is now looking forward to the race entering the high mountains, where he feels he should be even more competitive. "I'm going into a phase of the race that should suit me more. It's strange because when I was in my first couple of years I used to love those climbs that were 5-6k and really steep and that I could just power up, but now I feel that I struggle more with them than the longer climbs because I've modified my training. I'm capable of following on longer climbs but I've lost that power and kick that I used to have."
Looking ahead to the stages following Tuesday's rest day, Roche commented: "Wednesday and Thursday are two really hard stages. At the finish in La Toussuire the gaps at the finish won't be 30 seconds or so, they will be measured in minutes. You've got the Madeleine, the Glandon, the Croix de Fer and the Mollard, then up to La Toussuire. It won't be down to a single sprint like the stage to La Planche des Belles Filles. But I'm feeling confident."
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).