Jonathan Vaughters fooled us good.
Back in 2016, when he signed Pierre Rolland away from Europcar, he predicted big things for the French climber who had finished 8th in the 2012 Tour de France and 4th in the 2014 Giro d’Italia.
At the time, Vaughters literally gushed with enthusiasm about Rolland’s untapped potential. “The amount of improvement that that guy still has available to him was astounding to us and our sports scientists,” Vaughters told VeloNews. “He was training like someone was training in 1975. He’s really made some big improvements and that will be interesting to see this season.”
There was the sense that Vaughters would polish Rolland into a true GC threat for the Tour de France or Giro. That the underfunded Cannondale squad had stumbled onto an affordable winner in a grand tour.
It was Vaughters’ contention that Rolland didn’t have the support he needed from Europcar in the flat stages of the Tour. He was losing big chunks of time before he even got a crack at the Alps and Pyrenees. “If Pierre can start the mountains with a three-minute deficit and not a 13-minute deficit, then he becomes a genuine threat to the podium.”
Well, that made perfect sense and yet for whatever reason, the elevated performances just didn’t happen. In the 2016 Tour de France he crashed heavily on stages 8 and 19. He impressed everyone with his toughness and aggressive riding but finished in 16th place, over 30 minutes behind.
“I prepared 100 percent for the Tour de France. It was my first year with Cannondale-Drapac, but it was a black year. I crashed, and all was lost,” said Rolland back in 2017. “I was very disappointed.”
It seemed that the GC experiment was ultimately not going to succeed. A conclusion that Rolland himself reached — “I was often forced to ride for the classification but I never enjoyed it.”
The next year, Rolland set his sights on the Giro d’Italia but went hunting for a stage win instead of a high finish on the GC ranking. He was rewarded with a sterling breakaway victory on stage 17 on the climb up to Canazei. He also won the 3rd stage of the Route du Sud — but that was it for the flashy palmares — two wins in three years for Vaughters and new sponsor EF Education First.
Now, with Rolland’s contract up at EF Education First, the transfer talk heats up and it sounds very francais. According to rumors, Vital Concept and a few other French teams have put out feelers. “I know that Pierre has had some propositions from other French teams but I think he wants to stay in the WorldTour,” said Jerome Pineau at Vital Concept. “The chance of signing him now is small but if he’s free at the end of August then maybe I can make something.”
While Rolland hasn’t won many races for Vaughters, he has won over his teammates. He made that clear after he won his Giro stage. “I think they respect me because I ride at the front and also because I kept attacking at the Tour de France despite crashing. The whole team appreciates that. I’ve found a role for me in this team and I hope I can inspire them and been an example for the other guys.”
That doesn’t mean that EF Education First will give him a new contract that makes him happy. Nor can anyone predict how much Rolland misses being in a French team. “He’s a super strong rider but he costs a lot for sure,” said Pineau. “I’ve talked to him but that’s because he is my friend. He has told me that he’s happy at EF, and at a big team. I think he’s happy there but I don’t know if he will leave.”
We’ve always thought that Rolland was a classy rider, an almost timeless throwback — and that’s no surprise given his deep appreciation of cycling history. Our guess is that Pierre Rolland will stick with Vaughters and EF Education First. He likes not training like it’s 1975.