In the saddle: Dauphiné disappointment may be a blessing in disguise for Roche

Will crashing out of the Critérium du Dauphiné force Nicolas Roche to reassess his Tour de France goals? Cillian Kelly asks the questions.

Image: ©INPHO/Getty Images/PASCAL PAVANI

THE CRASH THAT Nicolas Roche sustained in the Critérium du Dauphiné last Friday might, just might, be a blessing in disguise. Roche came a cropper on a fast descent which resulted in him leaving plenty of skin behind on the road to Les Gets.

Admirably, Roche remounted and finished the stage but announced his withdrawal from the race later that evening. This meant that Roche missed the final two stages of the race; stages which would have suited the former Irish champion and which would have provided a platform to really test out his form ahead of the Tour de France.

Now, Roche has been forced to take a few days off the bike while his body recovers and begins the healing process. He has admitted that he probably won’t feel right again for two to three weeks. Having previously been sidelined this season due to a knee injury, this latest setback is far from ideal as the Tour de France begins in less than three weeks.

However, there may be a bright side to Roche’s latest setback. Depending on how his recovery progresses in the coming days, he may be forced to reassess his goals for the Tour and shift his focus from the general classification to stage wins.

In the past couple of years Roche has made a concerted effort to aim for the general classification in Grand Tours. This involved losing weight to aid his ascents in the mountains and finally being given a time trial bike by his team with which to train over the winter months. This culminated in 15th place in last year’s Tour de France and seventh place in the Vuelta e Espana shortly afterward.

Although Roche’s progression has been slow and sure, at nearly 27 years of age, it’s entirely possible that he will never make it to the lofty heights of a podium place in a Grand Tour.
His improvement in the high mountains has been admirable, but he often gets dropped when the gradients become really severe. Also, his time-trialling simply isn’t good enough; he lost three and a half minutes in the time trial stage of the Dauphiné which was run over the exact same route of the only individual time trial in this year’s Tour.

But Roche has other qualities.

He showed in the 2008 Vuelta and the 2009 Tour that he has a good nose for sniffing out breakaway opportunities. He has also shown consistently throughout his career that he can hold his own in a bunch sprint. These attributes are not generally required of a Grand Tour rider. For instance, they are not qualities which would be readily ascribed to the likes of Alberto Contador or Andy Schleck.

And as Roche has decided to concentrate on riding for general classification, they are attiributes which are being wasted.

Change of plan

His latest injury setback has made it almost certain that Roche will not start Stage One of the Tour de France in the form that he would have wished. In addition, Roche is being put under pressure for the leadership of his own team. So why not dump the plans of getting a top ten overall finish and go for a stage win instead?

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Is a 12th or 13th place overall in Paris worth the day-in day-out, three week slog of defending a place in the general classification? Apart from the national championships in 2009, Roche hasn’t won a race for three years. A Tour de France stage win would provide the perfect remedy.

Nicolas Roche – top 20 finisher in the Tour de France? Sounds impressive enough but it’ll never make the front page. Also, he has achieved that already and the improvements required to reach a further rung on the G.C. ladder are exponential.

He can infiltrate breakaways and he can definitely sprint for a win from a small group. Nicolas Roche – Tour de France stage winner? Now there’s a headline to get excited about.

Read: Wiggins closes out Dauphiné victory >

About the author:

Cillian Kelly  / Twitter: @irishpeloton

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