Pierre Rolland Interview: “For me all of the mountaintop finishes are objectives”
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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Pierre Rolland Interview: “For me all of the mountaintop finishes are objectives”

by Ben Atkins at 9:08 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France, Critérium International, Tour de Langkawi
 
French climbing star hunting victory in Langkawi on the long road to the Tour

pierre rollandPierre Rolland (Europcar) is currently one of France’s biggest hopes for glory in its biggest race, as it searches for its first homegrown winner of the Tour since Bernard Hinault. The climber from near Orleans, in the Loire valley of central France, has taken arguably the most prestigious mountain stage in each of the last two races, and hopes to do even more in the upcoming edition of la Grande Boucle.

Having just had what he recently described as a “quiet winter,” training at home, the 26-year-old is racing at le Tour de Langkawi. He finished safely in a group of favourites, 3’16” behind stage winner Wang Meiyin of Hengxiang, on the first mountain stage to Cameron Highlands, and now has the chance to fight for victory on the far tougher climb up to Genting Highlands.

VeloNation caught up with Rolland at the end of stage four, to speak about his chances on the challenging day to come, as well as what the rest of his season might bring.

“It felt good,” he said of his sensations on the previous day’s mountain stage, “but the climb is not very hard. I knew from the other year that I rode that the finish at Cameron Highlands was not very hard.

“There was a big selection, with a large number of riders, and now we’re looking at tomorrow.”

While his legs felt good on the climb to Cameron Highlands, however, the Frenchman is coy about his chances on the race’s Queen stage.

“Ask me again tomorrow evening!” he laughed.

After his solo exploit to Cameron Highlands, Wang leads Nippo-De Rosa’s Julian Arrendondo by 2’43”, and a group of 25 riders - including Rolland - by three and a half minutes. For some riders this would be enough to have already secured victory, but the Chinese rider is currently untested against riders of the calibre of some of the overall favourites.

“Has he won? Well, there are six more days to go, he has to make the right decisions,” said Rolland. “Tomorrow he has to do a good climb, and after that his team has to be solid.”

The last time Rolland rode in Langkawi, in 2011, he finished 12th on the Genting Highlands stage, losing just 1’04” on Colombian stage - and eventually overall - winner Yonathan Monsalve.

Whether he has enough to do better this time remains to be seen, but Rolland feels that his form is right where he wants it to be in February.

“I’m at about 80%,” he confirmed. “My condition is optimal. It’s good for here, yes.”

Heading to Corsica with the tour de France in his sights

Following Langkawi, Rolland will return to Europe, where he will aim for his first domestic targets. The Europcar rider has already competed in the Etoile de Bessèges and Tour Méditerranéen stage races - finishing 83rd and 43rd respectively - but his next French rendezvous will be for more than just taking in a few kilometres at race speed.

“The [Criterium] International,” he confirmed will be his next race between March 24th and 25th. “To win. I hope.”

The reasons for Rolland’s selection of the Criterium International is an obvious one, since it will take place on the island of Corsica for the fourth straight year. The fact that the race will cover many of the roads to be used in the opening stages of this year’s Tour de France, which visits the island for the first time in its history, will offer the 26-year-old the chance to ride them in advance of July’s big race.

Plainly, the Tour will be Rolland’s biggest objective of the season, and Europcar will once again arrive at the race with two leaders, in himself and the ever popular Thomas Voeckler. Both riders took big mountain stages in last year’s race, and both will have similar objectives this time around.

The fact that the two riders’ aims for the Tour differ slightly, however, means that there should be no conflict between the French stars.

“It will be Thomas and me,” Rolland confirmed. “And after that Thomas will be going for stages and the polka dot jersey, for example, and for me it will be for the general classification.”

Rolland is the current “champion of Alpe d’Huez,” having taken victory in the Tour de France stage that finished on top of the iconic mountain pass in 2011. The race returns to the climb that is a virtual World championships for climbers again this year, but will be different to every other visit in the past as it will climb the famous 21 hairpin bends twice.

Although it will be the stage that every climber in the 2013 Tour will want to win, Rolland refuses to be drawn on the subject, and points out that there are many other beautiful summit finishes.

“For me all of the mountaintop finishes are objectives, after my victory in Alpe d’Huez,” he explained. “It’s the mountain that’s the most well known, but… everybody talks about Alpe d’Huez all the time, but I won on La Toussuire and they never talk about that!”

Rolland has made the top ten of the Tour in both previous editions, with his 2011 Alpe d’Huez victory propelling him to tenth overall, and the white jersey for best young rider, and his 2012 La Toussuire win helping him improve to eighth. While stage wins - particularly those taken on iconic mountaintops - provide some of the great images of the race, the fight for the general classification - and the holy grail of the yellow jersey - is equally important.

But which is more important to Pierre Rolland?

“Les deux,” he smiled. Both.

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