Pierre Rolland: “He told me: ‘Play your card, go get the white jersey.’”
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Friday, July 22, 2011

Pierre Rolland: “He told me: ‘Play your card, go get the white jersey.’”

by Ben Atkins at 7:53 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 
Europcar rider pays tribute to Thomas Voeckler as he takes the Alpe d’Huez stage and the lead in the young riders’ classification

Pierre RollandAfter serving as a faithful lieutenant to yellow jersey Thomas Voeckler for the past ten days, Europcar’s Pierre Rolland was finally released on the road to Alpe d’Huez and allowed to ride for himself. The 24-year-old from the Loire valley followed the leaders, as Voeckler was dropped, then attacked on the approach to the base of the Alpe.

Despite being caught on the climb by both Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) on the way up the climb, he hung on to overcome both at the finish.

“When Thomas gave me carte blanche. He told me: ‘Play your card, go get the white jersey.’ so I followed Schleck, Evans and Cunego,” Roland told L’Equipe. “When it all came together it was a bit of a mess; I knew the bump in the valley and on Alpe d'Huez I knew everything by heart.”

When Contador came up to Rolland there were still 12km to climb and he was unable to follow the pace of the defending Tour champion. When Sanchez got up to him a few kilometres later though, he was able to follow the Olympic champion”

“I could respond to Contador’s sudden acceleration twice but not three times,” he explained. “I heard in my earpiece that Sanchez was coming up. I confess that I profited from his work. Sanchez and Contador get along very well; they often ride together.”

As soon as he and Sanchez had caught Contador, with 2.5km to go, Rolland immediately attacked. He was not able to escape the first time, as Contador clung to his back wheel, but after several more attempts he got away with 2km remaining.

“I knew that one turn [of the pedals] that I was able to attack and stay in the big ring to the finish,” he said. “I really knew this climb by heart.”

Since Voeckler took the yellow jersey on stage nine to Saint-Flour, Rolland has been a constant companion to the former French champion. Often, when the favourites for the race were alone on the mountaintop finishes, Voeckler would still have Rolland by his side.

“I was always clear with that,” he explained. “I always kept my line and I did not play my personal card when he had the yellow jersey. On the Galibier, he told me to take my chance and I did not hesitate one second. I felt fine. He had the honesty to say: ‘The Yellow Jersey is lost, I can not follow Evans and Schleck.’

“This is a great champion,” he said. “A lesser rider would not have let me go. Since he’s had the jersey, we’ve found ourselves together in the final selection. That helped a lot, I understand why the Schlecks are so strong.”

The last, and only other, Frenchman to win on Alpe d’Huez was the great Bernard Hinault, who took the stage after riding up the mountain with teammate Greg Lemond in 1986. This took place more than two months before Rolland was born.

“I do not know [what this means]” he said. “At the moment I’m in the clouds. It is true that Bernard Hinault won in 1986, the year of my birth; I was not there to see it.”

Hinault’s victory came towards the end of his career, after the Badger had won his five Tours de France, and was helping Lemond to his first. At 24, Rolland is younger than Lemond was then; he moved up to tenth overall and took the white jersey on the Alpe, and doesn’t rule out swapping it for yellow one day.

“I never claimed that I would be the new Bernard Hinault,” he said. “I am 24, 25 at the end of the year, I have ten good years ahead of me. I don’t want to have any regrets. I will give the maximum possible."

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