Pierre Rolland. Echoes of Gilbert and Fédrigo.
What is it about French riders and trainers and the disinterest in the fact that it’s 2016?
We got another lesson in antiquated training methods and benign negligent today courtesy of Cannonade’s head man Jonathan Vaughters and his new rider Frenchman Pierre Rolland.
Apparently Vaughters and his team trainers and psychologists looked at what Rolland had been doing the last few years at Europecar and came it a startling assessment. Something like, what the frite have you been doing? They were baffled and surprised about Rolland’s 40 year old training program.
“He was training like someone was training in 1975. The amount of improvement that that guy still has available to him was astounding to us and our sports scientists,” Vaughters told VeloNews. “. He’s really made some big improvements and that will be interesting to see this season.”
Now remember that Rolland is a definite, proven talent with two top tens and and and with place on GC in the Tour de France. In 2014 he barely missed the podium at the Giro d’Italia. He clearly has the engine for a grand tour — he just might not have had the sports science.
Time to fix that one.
“We were able to make larger improvements than I’ve ever seen, even with continental riders we are not able to improve them that much. It was just a massive improvement in his aerodynamics. Hopefully that will translate to the road, we don’t know yet, not until the first time trial of the year,” said Vaughters.
In fact, Vaughters is so turned on by Rolland’s new-found potential that we took to twitter to express it: “All I know is this, @PierroooRolland is going to go fast as stink this year and that gives me Le Grand Boner.” Well, it’s a long season so please JV, calm down.
All this is yet another remind that in general the french teams are consistently behind the times when it comes to modern training protocols and approaches. In the dark age of doping, the French complained that pro riders were operating at “deux vitesses.” Which meant doped or not doped with the French crawling up hill at the slower speed and lower wattage.
Now, you’d change to make that cycling a deux training programs, old school and new, ancient and modern, French and not French. Rolland won’t get the full Sky science makeover but Cannondale will definitely bring him up to 2016. That’s good news for Rolland and perhaps bad new for Tour co-captain Andrew Tolansky who has more marginal gains to make.
Still, Rolland isn’t the only French rider in the peloton who isn’t dialed in to scientific and aerodynamic perfection. Six years ago FDJ trainer Frederic Grappe was stunned to learn that star rider Pierrick Fédrigo barely knew what he was doing for training.
“He doesn’t write down his kilometers nor his training hours. When he makes a performance, he doesn’t know how he was able to do it. When he starts a race, he doesn’t know if he’s good or not. It is only 40 kilometers before the finish, when he checks out the faces of his rivals, that he understands whether he can win,” said Grappe. “He measures his form by comparison to others, he doesn’t know himself.”
There is never a shortage of stories about FDJ or AG2R or Europecar and their surprisingly lackadaisical attitude toward the latest training ideas. Part of that is lack of budget, inherent French snobbiness (they invented the sport!) and then just a general blasé response to the latest breakthroughs in performance enhancement. Too busy re-reading Andre Gide and Albert Camus novels.
This is by no means a French-only issue. Belgian superstar Philippe Gilbert, hot off winning everything in the Ardennes, came to BMC with the same lack of awareness for new training ideas. It took several years of underwhelming race results before performance director Allan Peiper came on board and discovered Gilbert’s out-dated program.
“Gilbert is an old school cyclist. He has never even had a trainer before but the cycling world is changing. He understands that we have to change things. We decided on a completely different program,” said Peiper. When you look at Sky and BMC and Cannondale, you really can’t believe a rider like Gilbert didn’t even have a trainer.
So we’re intrigued by the athletic upside for Rolland. As Vaughters said, he’s made the top ten on GC by essentially making up a 10-13 minute deficit he incurred before hitting the big mountains. An injection of sports science, aerodynamics work and better support from teammates could well push him into the top five or higher.
Good thing Rolland finally found a team that knows the year is 2016. Lucky Pierre.