20-year-old Nicolas Roche is getting the chance to follow in his famous father's footsteps with a stPICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE It's far too early to talk about a return to the heights of the 1980s and early 1990s, but things are certainly starting to look a bit rosier for the future of Irish cycling. Mark Scanlon finished his first Tour this month, Philip Deignan is currently third in the world under-23 rankings and will join Scanlon at Ag2r Prvoyance next season. And now Nicolas Roche, son of the 1987 Tour winner Stephen Roche, is making his own moves towards the paid ranks. Roche yesterday confirmed that he will be lining up with the Cofidis team this September as one of their stagiaires. Still just 20 years of age, the Antibes-based Irishman came to Cofidis' attention with a number of decent rides this season in French events with his VC La Pomme team, as well as good placings in under-23 World Cup races and a bronze medal in the Irish road race championships. Cofidis invited him to take part in a short training camp in July and afterwards told him they would like him to take up a stagiaire's place in September. "It is great to get the offer," Roche said yesterday. "A couple of teams had seemed interested but Cofidis were the first to give me a firm offer, so I went with them. They have had a rough year but are confirmed as part of the ProTour for next year, so that could be a bit of a bonus. The only drawback with that is that there could be a lot of pressure straight away in the first year." Roche hopes to ride well enough to secure a contract. Recognising that form can be unpredictable at the end of a long season, he is hoping that the decision will not just hinge on how he does in their team strip. "I hope it won't just depend on the results I might get in September, that it is also based around what I have done already to date. The thing is, by September I will already have had a long season so I don't know how I will be going. Hopefully I will be in good shape and keep that form throughout the stage - that will certainly be my goal - but you never know. A lot can happen in those four weeks. you can go from very good to bad, or even very bad!' The European championships in early August will offer Roche a chance to get a good early result and so take the pressure off. "They are certainly a target for me," he says. "I heard they are going to be on a rolling course and so I hope that will be very suitable for me. So too are the world championships in Verona. in fact, they may be even better again because usually I am always very good at the end of the year. "I've heard that the course is very difficult there; from the sounds of it, the length of the climb is perfect for me. I think the hill is five or six kilometres and that is my ideal distance for climbing. I'm looking forward to it. Certainly if I do a ride there or at the Europeans it will help me get a deal for 2005." But what about his age; at 20, does he not have any concerns that he might be too young to join the paid ranks? "Some people have said to me that they think I might be a bit young to be trying to get a pro contact," he admits. "They think I should wait another year. Thing is, I feel that I am mature enough and that I want to give it a shot now. Becoming a good professional takes a long time nowadays. I mean, guys of 25 years of age are considered young riders. I think the sooner you get in there the better. It gives you time to develop as a pro."