Lucky Pierre Rolland is the big guy for Cannondale in Le Grand Shindig. Until a few weeks ago, the Frenchman was sharing the captain role with American Andrew Talansky.
However, a difficult personal issue affected Talansky’s Tour preparations and he has been re-routed to the Vuelta a Espana. Now, it’s all in for Rolland who has won stages and finished top ten and eleven in recent editions for the biggest stage race in the universe.
This is going to be a fascinating ride for Rolland. We’ll discover if all the boisterous enthusiasm from team boss and twitter comedian Jonathan Vaughters is justified.
He essentially called out Rolland’s old training methods at Europcar as antiquated and after seeing the Frenchman’s dramatic improvements in the wind tunnel, Vaughters was sky high on the Tour possibilities.
“He may not be the most explosive rider, but come the last few days of the Tour de France, he will surprise a few folks, said Vaughters, just five days out from Normandy and Le Grand Depart.
It’s also true that if you could eliminate the large chucks of time that Rolland tends to lose in the first week to ten days, pre-mountains, at the Tour, that he’d be significantly higher in GC. The feeling at Cannondale was that his old squad took a laissez-faire attitude toward protecting and positioning Rolland in those critical stages.
Rolland has been fairly quiet in terms of results in his lead-up to Le Tour. Other than a 10th overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné, he hasn’t done anything that has the media jumping in anticipation.
However, Rolland is a diesel that historically runs strong in the third week as others fade. In a back-loaded Tour de France, that bodes well for his GC chances and the tactical games will be fascinating as Rolland and Cannondale look to profit from a Froome and Quintana cage match made even more unpredictable by an aggressive and rested Alberto Contador.
Team Sky brings perhaps their strongest ever Tour squad with Mikel Landa, Geraint Thomas, Sergio Henao, Wout Poels and Mikel Nieve all there to drive the pace for Froome in the Alps and Pyrenees. That’s a monster lineup and in our book, head and shoulders above Quintana’s strong Spanish armada at Movistar.
That’s five climbers at Sky that can chase down every attack and lead Froome up the final gradient of the last climb. Scary stuff and Quintana and Contador almost have to work together from the git-go. They’ll have to be bold and creative.
But back to Rolland. All that lays out as the ideal set of battle scenarios for Rolland to stay under the radar, ride steady for two weeks and then make his moves in the final week.
Rolland himself sounds pretty pumped up for a guy that generally isn’t too outspoken. “I’ve put in many days training, and with the team I have a really good feeling. Truly. I hope for a great performance, from me, from the team. What I’d really like is a new stage victory and to have the best possible overall standing. The competition is very hard, everyone is ready at 100 percent.”
This is a fascinating transplant story for Cannondale and Rolland. We’re about to see if the change in team and scenery will carry Rolland higher than he’s ever gone.