Roche and Martin on rise as Alps loom

Ireland’s two riders in the Tour de France, Nicolas Roche (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Dan Martin (Garmin-SHARP) enjoyed a solid weekend with Roche moving inside the top 10 overall while Martin displayed some good form on Saturday’s leg-breaking climb to the finish at La Planche des Belles Filles to finish 17th.

Roche is now ninth on GC, two minutes and 21 seconds behind race leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky) while Martin is further back in 69th, over 27 minutes down.

The first cousins will be glad to see the back of what has been one of the most stressful and crash-infested opening weeks in recent history and look forward to the steep slopes of the Alps this week, where both will be expected to challenge.

With several of Martin’s team out of the running for a high placing on GC, their stated goals have now shifted to stage wins and they went in search of one Saturday, with Martin being paced up the aforementioned category one climb to the finish.

Though he worked his way up past a string of big name contenders, he lost pace with a group containing the likes of Wiggins, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) and stage winner Chris Froome (Sky) about six kilometres from the top, but still managed 17th.

Roche clung doggedly to that front group and crossed the line in 11th place, over a minute behind Froome.

The Kenyan-born British rider rode the race of his life and captured his biggest ever result when he came around defending champion Cadel Evans in the closing metres — a result that saw Wiggins take over the yellow jersey from Fabian Cancellara who has led the race since last Saturday week’s prologue in Liege.

Wiggins now holds a 10-second lead over Evans.

But all wasn’t so pleasant with him yesterday at the race leader’s post-stage press conference where the 32-year-old was asked about Team Sky’s performance on stage seven – a dominant display that provoked some commentators to compare the British squad’s performance with that of seven-time winner Lance Armstrong’s United States Postal Service squad in their heyday – and the cynics who suggest riders have to take drugs to win the Tour.

Wiggins said: “I say they’re just f*****g w*****s. I cannot be doing with people like that.

“It justifies their own bone-idleness because they can’t ever imagine applying themselves to do anything in their lives.

“It’s easy for them to sit under a pseudonym on Twitter and write that sort of s**t, rather than get off their arses in their own lives and apply themselves and work hard at something and achieve something.

“And that’s ultimately it.”

The race continues today with a 41-kilometre individual time-trial from Arc-et-Senans to Besançon.

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