When asked what he’d do if he was French selector for the upcoming World Championships, veteran journalist Jean-Paul Brouchon promptly replied that the first thing would be to make Nicolas Roche a French rider.
Roche is half-French already, obviously with a famous Irish father but he spent time growing up in France and his mother is French. Above all, he’s ridden for the French national team in the past already.
Brouchon’s point is that Roche is lying fifth overall in the Vuelta now and he’s got a decent sprint in his legs, he could be a real contender for the rainbow jersey, assuming his GC ambitions do not tire him too much.
Now perhaps there are bigger revelations in the Vuelta, Teejay Van Garderen for example. But Roche has made a leap this season.
Roche is no a neo-pro. He turned pro aged 20 and had three seasons with Cofidis, two at Credit Agricole and is now in his second year with Ag2R – La Mondiale. He’s shown some flashes, for example holding the lead in the Tour de l’Avenir and some strong performances in the smaller French races but for too long it was his name that stood out rather than his riding.
Now people talk of a more serious approach to riding. He’s lost weight, he’s worked on his training and he’s started to ride clever, for example he won’t always follow the climbers when they accelerate on a mountain pass, he’ll peg his way back to them after attacks.
Also he’s escaped the Catch-22 scenario that’s the downfall of French cycling. You are expected to ride many races, like the small Coupe de France series, and to give it your all. So rest and recovery is hard, and notions like planning and progress are abandoned for short term prospect of the next race.
Where next? Whilst finishing fifth would be a great result, it leaves Roche in limbo. Is he able to reach the podium in a Grand Tour, should he aim for this? Or would he do well to use his abilities to target something like Paris-Nice or a few one day races? Can he win in Geelong?