Roche: The shape of things to come

Next season is a very important one in the career of Nicolas Roche. He will probably always have the label of being a Tour de France winner’s son put on him. However, while Stephen was undoubtedly a G.C. rider for the big tours, Nicolas it seems  still hasn’t really settled on what sort of rider he will focus on becoming.

Still only 25 years old, he has already completed all three of the  Grand Tours of cycling. In 2008, what could be considered his breakthrough season, he finished a highly creditable 13th in the Vuelta a Espana. He also finished 2nd on Stage 18 to Las Rozas, only barely missing out on the win in a four man sprint. Last season he rode his first Tour de France finishing 23rd overall, the highest finish for an Irish rider in the Tour since his father finished 13th in 1993. Over the past year he’s also produced top 20 performances in the prestigious Critérium International, the Tour Méditerranéen and the mountainous Pro Tour race, the Volta a Catalunya. He also finished 35th in Milan San Remo.

All creditable results, but all in very different styles of races. Unless he focuses on one particular discipline, be it Grand Tours, sprints or one day races, he’s in danger of spending his career being good at everything but not great at anything. Riders that fall under this category would be George Hincapie, Michael Albasini and Carlos Barredo. All of whom, because of their variety of talents, have mostly been employed as domestiques throughout their careers. Now there’s nothing wrong with spending your professional years at the service of a team mate. Countless riders have forged successful careers as support riders, but you can’t help but feel that Roche could achieve excellent results given a chance as team leader. But, as a team leader, he needs to decide in what races he plans to excel.

In the Tour de France this year, somewhat unfortunately for Roche, his team leader Rinaldo Nocentini found himself in the yellow jersey for just over a week. Roche had been ear-marked as having a free role in the Tour, which meant he was at liberty to get into breakaways and chase stage victories. However, when Nocentini took the yellow jersey on Stage 7, Roche was demoted to the role of support rider. Nonetheless, Roche still snuck into a large breakaway on Stage 14. He played his role as domestique perfectly by not contributing to the breakaway which might have seen his team leader lose the yellow jersey, basic cycling tactics which were lost on a certain Italian sprinter. Roche managed a 2nd placed finish on the day and Nocentini kept the jersey.

Throughout Nocentini’s tenure as leader of the race, the riders passed through the Pyrenées. In the high mountains Roche could be seen pacing his team leader up the climbs to keep in touch with the major G.C. contenders. As well as Roche’s evident ability in the mountains, he also finished 6th in the points classification. A clear indication of his all round ability. On top of this, he finished his first Tour de France in 5th position in the young rider classification.

He has the upper body build of a sprinter. He has a thick neck and muscled arms, to improve on his G.C. credentials he will have to shed these extra Bradley Wiggins-esque kilograms. His results suggest he has what it takes to be a good sprinter, having had five top 10 finishes in the Tour this year. However, while Stephen Roche was in the Eurosport studio covering the Tour this year, he suggested that should his son lose the extra weight and focus his training a little more he would expect him to finish in the top 5 of the Tour in the next couple of years.

This seems like a huge ask of Nicolas Roche, moving from 23rd on G.C. to top 5. Although Bradley Wiggins has shown us all what weight loss (while maintaining power output) can do for a rider in the high mountains. On Friday 13th November both men, Nicolas and Stephen will make an appearance on Ireland’s premier chat show The Late Late Show. Perhaps after Friday, we’ll have a better understanding of which direction the younger Roche will be taking in his career.

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