France’s best hope at its national race is an Irishman.
Riding for Ag2r-La Mondiale, the 2009 Irish champion Nicolas Roche is the best-placed man on a French team at the 2010 Tour, sitting in 14th overall. And, technically, he is French.
The son of Irish cycling legend Stephen Roche and his French former wife, Lydia, Roche held dual citizenship until 2005, when he declared for France. Yet the UCI and Cycling Ireland continued to honor his dual citizenship, and thus he is allowed to compete in the Irish national championships.
After racing for French amateur teams, Roche turned pro with Cofidis at the end of 2004. He raced the Tour for the first time last year, at age 25. He scored a second place on stage 14 and a fourth place on stage 16, and went on to finish 23rd overall.
This year, Roche sits ahead of several Tour de France podium finishers on the overall, including Carlos Sastre, Cadel Evans and Andreas Klöden.
On stage 12, Roche finished in an elite group with the likes of Ivan Basso, Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins, coming across the line 31 seconds back from Rodriguez. After five hours of aggressive racing on tight, winding roads with several climbs, the stage finished right after the sharp Cat. 2 Mende climb, the front end of the race shattered.
“Today was the type of climb that I know on a top day I can go good,” Roche said. “I didn’t do too bad compared to how I screwed up in the Alps.”
Roche lost two minutes on the first big day in the Alps on stage 8 and almost five minutes on stage 9 over the HC Col de la Madeleine when Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador were duking it out.
On stage 12, a big break went clear early and was only caught in the final kilometers.
“With Klöden and all these boys up the road, it was just savage all day,” Roche said. “Really, really hard with the terrain and the speed of the race. And oh, what a finish.”
Looking ahead to the Pyrénées, Roche said he has high hopes for himself.
“I always set myself high ambitions,” he said. “I like to be disappointed in the end as to have more motivation for afterwards. I wanted to be as close as possible to the top 15. I realized today that the level is really high in this Tour, and it’s going to be difficult to do. But the team is great, they do their maximum for me every day. I’m like a young Padawan learning my job. It’s great to have all the team playing the game with me. I haven’t won anything yet. I’ve done okay on some stages. But everything has to be proven yet.”