Sean Kelly, the Irish cycling legend, believes that the Grand Tour credentials of duo Nicolas Roche and Dan Martin remain uncertain ahead of the Giro d'Italia which takes off in Belfast on the 9th of May.
The former world number one acknowledges that Martin is improving steadily and that Roche had a small breakthrough last season but questions whether the improvement will continue and how much further they will be able to go in their respective careers.
“I think with Dan Martin, he’s improving all the time,” Kelly told the Irish Examiner of the Garmin Sharp man, who will lead his team at the Giro and has already won a mountain stage in both the Tour de France and the Vuelta A Espana.
“He’s getting better at Grand Tours. He seems to be improving all the time. There’s time on his side because I think age-wise, he still has a lot of years left.
“Nicolas Roche also, we see last year in the Vuelta he had a very solid performance. Then there was one day with the horrible weather conditions and so many riders were suffering on that day.
“A lot of riders dropped out and a lot of riders lost a lot of time and Roche was one of those. Otherwise I think a top five in the Vuelta last year would have been possible for him. So that is a big improvement.
“But the question is now how much (more) will they improve. There will come a time when it levels out and they do not improve any more. So (Roche) will be hoping over the next two or three years that he will improve, as he has been in the last two of three years.”
Roche made a promising start to the Tour of Romandie – his final preparation before the Italian grand tour – when he finished just 20 seconds slower than winner Michal Kwiatkowski in the tour's opening stage.
Omega Pharma – QuickStep's Kwiatkowski rode the 5.5-kilometre prologue in a time of six minutes and 22 seconds but the Roche will be hopeful that he can reduce the deficit in the course of the Tour.
“Having been on training camp near Etna on Sicily recently, my form is coming along nicely,” Roche said after the prologue. “We’ve all been working really hard over the past four weeks and I think it’s finally starting to show.
“It’s been an important camp in terms of preparing for the Giro and hopefully, Romandie will brush up my condition so I’ll be ready when the racing starts in Belfast on Friday week. I feel ready and that’s a good start.”
Kelly, meanwhile, does not think that Team Sky will find it easy to repeat their Tour de France heroics from 2012 and 2013.
The former Tour de France green jersey winner believes that both the impressive form of other contenders such as Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) as well as the British team's rocky season so far might cost them come July.
Earlier this spring Chris Froome, last year's Tour de France winner, struggled with a back problem and more recently Sky's leading rider was forced to pull out of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege because of a mild chest infection.
Froome's lieutenant, Richie Porte was originally meant to lead Sky at the Giro but he was withdrawn from the race because early-season illness had hampered his preparation. He is now solely focusing on helping Froome reclaim the Tour title.
“It’s ongoing,” Kelly said of Froome’s problems in recent months.
“First of all before the Tirreno Adriatico I think it was a back problem. [He] overcame that and now he’s getting a touch of bronchitis, a chest infection. It all affects your preparation.
“This time last year, Froome was after having much more success.
“I think they still have time on their side,” he added, however.
On top of that Kelly believes that the selection process regarding team leadership for the Tour de France might now not be as straightforward as it would have been at the start of the season.
Bradley Wiggins has enjoyed some somewhat unexpected success riding in some of the one-day classics while Froome's is yet to be seen in full flow.
“It’s going to be a difficult decision; will they have to field the two riders?
“When you look at the Tour de France this year, on day five we have a very difficult cobbled section; they have to consider that. It’ll be an interesting time to see what the Tour team selection is going to be in Team Sky.”
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