Roche and Martin lay out early-season programmes

Roche gets year under way in Tour of Dubai, while Martin will start in Portugal

The international season gets under way this month with the Santos Tour Down Under in Australia, but Ireland's Nicolas Roche and Dan Martin will delay their racing debuts until February.

Roche gets his year under way in the Tour of Dubai, running February 6th-10th, then will go on to the Tour of Oman (February 13th-18th). He will return to Europe for Paris-Nice (March 4th-11th), and later head across the border for the Tour of the Basque Country just under a month later.

After that, he will compete in the Tour of Italy for only the fourth time in his career. "The plan now is to ride the Giro, and then which one of the next two Grand Tours is not quite certain," he told The Irish Times. "Normally it should be the Tour de France but, as every year, there is always a short list and everything depends on that. The Tour is not 100 per cent guaranteed until we get there."

Roche's best career result in the Giro is 24th in 2016, while he has been 12th and 14th overall in the Tour. However, he would almost certainly be riding for Richie Porte in the latter, and so a potential Giro/Vuelta a Espana combination may offer him more room for personal ambition. He was previously fifth and sixth overall in the Vuelta, and has also won two stages.


Racing number

First cousin Dan Martin will also wait more than a month from now before pinning on a racing number. As was the case last year, he will ride the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal (February 14th-18th). This time, though, he will not compete in the earlier Tour of Valencia.

The UAE Team Emirates rider will then join Roche in the Paris-Nice lineup. Martin was a superb third overall last year, and may well have his eyes set on taking the overall victory this time around. He will head to the Vuelta a Catalunya for the March 19th start, and has the ability to try to repeat the overall victory he took in 2013.

After that the Ardennes Classics will be his priority. He is a past winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and was second there last year. He has also finished second, second, third, fourth and sixth in Flèche-Wallonne, and has made clear that winning the race is a major target.

After that he will build up towards the Tour de France. Having taken sixth overall despite a spinal fracture last year, he is convinced that a podium spot – or better – is within his capabilities.

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about cycling