Nicolas Roche’s year to deliver

In the first of a series of season preview posts, today I’m taking a look at what 2010 may have in store for Nicolas Roche. Previously I suggested that 2010 is a very important year for Roche in terms of which direction his career will take. He has proven himself to be capable when sprinting and when pacing a team leader up mountains. Stephen Roche went as far as to suggest that Roche Jnr. could end up in the top five at the Tour in the next few years. But despite a strong year in 2009, he failed to notch up any victories, so will 2010 be any different?

Last year, according to Cycling Quotient, Roche’s results ranked him 4th amongst his AG2R-La Mondiale team mates. The three riders who registered better results on the team were Rinaldo Nocentini, who spent eight days in yellow at the Tour, Martin Elmiger, who’s best results were 4th in the Tour Down Under and 9th in the Tour of Flanders and finally Tadej Valjevic who took 7th overall at the Tour de Suisse along with 9th at the Giro d’Italia. Being ranked 4th below these three riders is an admirable achievement for a 25-year old in his first year with a new team. The most notable additions to the AG2R rider roster for 2010 are David Le Lay and Dimitri Champion. Le Lay’s best result last year was coming 2nd at the Four Days of Dundirk. Champion’s best achievement last year was appropriately enough, becoming the French road race champion. Neither rider however seem to have the ability to upset the pecking order at AG2R for the coming year. Accordingly, Roche should be afforded plenty of opportunities to assume the role of team leader in 2010.

Last year Roche started his season at the Tour Down Under. His race calendar this year will take a different route with his first race of the season coming next week at the Étoile de Bességes. He revealed in an interview with Shane Stokes before Christmas that he plans on being competitive at Paris-Nice, the Volta a Catalunya and the Tour de Romandie, before taking on the Dauphiné Libéré in preparation for what will be his second Tour de France. Interestingly, he also stated his intention to ride the Vuelta in September, this would be the first time he’s attempted two Grand Tours in the one season.

Nicolas Roche wearing the jersey of Irish National Road Race Champion

After his performance at the Tour de France last year where he had several top 10 finishes and sacrificed his own chances of a stage win to defend Nocentini’s yellow jersey, he should be very confident of making the Tour team again this year. Of the team’s new signings, only Champion, with his tricolore jersey is likely to force his way into the Tour squad. He’ll likely take the place of the retiring Stéphane Goubert with the rest of the team remaining the same as last year. AG2R-La Mondiale will have the luxury of knowing they have secured a Pro Tour license and therefore automatic invitations to all the major races. Two of the other French teams will have no such luxury, as the Pro Tour licenses of Bbox Bouyges Telecom and Roche’s former team Cofidis were not renewed for the coming season. Roche’s team have also been guaranteed a Tour place this year, which means they won’t have to involve themselves in the inevitable scrap for wild card places. Designing a training plan and mapping out season goals is a lot easier when you’re certain which races you’ll be racing in.

Rinaldo Nocentini found himself in the yellow jersey at last year’s Tour by accident rather than design. In all likelihood, the team will not find itself with the leader of the race in their midst this year. Roche should be afforded a free role within the team, encouraged to chase stage victories. I said previously that Roche needs to decide on what type of rider he plans on becoming. He has said that he has controlled his weight a lot more this winter than he ever had previously in an attempt to improve his climbing ability. However, a push for a decent G.C. place at the Tour is still probably a couple of years beyond reach. For the moment Roche seems to be very much in the mould of riders such as Simon Gerrans or Perrick Fédrigo.

Apart from the Irish road race championship, Roche hasn’t won a race since he won the first stage of the Tour du Limousin in August 2008. Looking ahead, a successful season for Roche would be a podium finish and a stage victory at a stage race such as Paris-Nice or the Tour de Romandie along with a stage win at the Tour de France. If he can win a Tour stage he would be the first Irish rider to do so since his Dad won the 16th stage of the 1992 Tour through the fog at La Bourboule 18 years ago. Here’s hoping.

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