After a disappointing day at Plateau de Beille, Nicolas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale) is determined to put in an aggressive showing in the final week of the Tour de France to move back up the overall standings.
Speaking to Cyclingnews in Limoux the morning after stage 14, Roche hoped that his showing at Plateau de Beille had simply been a jour sans. The Irishman dropped eight places to 18th on general classification after losing over six minutes on the final day in the Pyrenees, and explained that he had already begun to suffer on the day’s penultimate climb.
"In the first part of the race I was feeling OK, I was riding up the front and had the team around me and I didn’t think I was going to be on a bad day until 5k to go on the Col de Agnes," Roche said, taking up the story. "I realised that something wasn’t right and I wasn’t feeling great. Eventually I even dropped out of that group on that climb and I thought ‘oh, oh.’
"I knew it was going to be the day that I was hoping I wouldn’t have had on the Tour. I was hoping it would arrive on one of the flatter days and I’d be able to get my way around it. Unfortunately, yesterday I had the two feet on the same pedal and I wasn’t going any quicker."
Roche admitted that he is unsure if Saturday’s setback was simply on off-day or if he will continue to struggle for the remainder of the Tour, given that a crash at the Criterium du Dauphiné in June hampered his build-up.
"It’s too soon to tell," Roche said. "I want to stay positive and just say that yesterday was my jour sans, and that was it."
Roche’s 15th place in the 2010 Tour was built largely around an impressive showing on the final mountain stage on the Col du Tourmalet, and he remains hopeful that he can again recoup his losses before the dust settles on the mountains.
"I’m a couple of minutes down on the other guys but two or three minutes on the Galibier can easily be retaken if you’re on a top day," Roche said, as he looked forward to the troika of Alpine stages in the third week. "That’s what happened to me last year on the Tourmalet. I had a great day on the Tourmalet and I took back a few minutes on a lot of the guys.
"So hopefully a similar scenario can arise again this year, even though last year I was probably on top form and this year I’m in kind of in the unknown area."
An aggressive final week?
A feature of Roche’s impressive Tour debut in 2009 was his willingness to go on the attack on all terrains, but apart from a daring sortie on the road to Gap, his high position on GC meant that those aggressive instincts had to be curbed somewhat last year. Now almost 11 minutes off Thomas Voeckler’s yellow jersey, Roche is tempted by the idea of infiltrating a breakaway, with a stage to Gap again providing potentially the best opportunity.
"I think I want to ride aggressive now – 18th, 19th or 25th, for me it’s all the same," Roche said. "I was hoping to arrive as close as possible to the top ten. I’m getting further away now. I’d like to try and ride aggressive again, even though you have to be a bit lucky as well as being strong to grab the right breakaway in the Tour and really want it.
"There are only two days left really for breakaways, so hopefully I can try and get in one of them and get up the front and have a bit of pleasure of riding in the break at the front again."
Jean-Christophe Péraud’s solid showing on Plateau de Beille saw him move up to 12th place overall, but although he is no longer the best-placed Ag2r-La Mondiale rider, Roche can still rely on significant support from his team.
"The good side of the team was to have two wildcards," Roche said. "Alright, yesterday I was 10th and he [Péraud] was 18th and today he’s 12th and I’m 18th, so things swapped around but we saw yesterday that Hubert [Dupont] stayed with me again. The team’s pretty focused around me."
During last year’s Tour, Roche was famously angered by his teammate John Gadret’s failure to help after he punctured on the Port de Bales, but he insisted that Ag2r’s riders are all pulling in the same direction in 2011. In order to retain their WorldTour status next season, the French squad is keen to pick up as many points as possible at the Tour.
"We’re a team where every UCI point is important for us for next year for the ProTour, so even if I’m 17th or 18th in GC in Paris, those 10-15 points are important for next year," Roche said. "The team’s pretty focused. Half the team is working with J-C and the other half gives me a hand as well."