One year after France's Rémy Di Gregorio won the climbers' classification at the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, another great French hope – Crédit Agricole's Pierre Rolland – sat down with Cyclingnews' Jean-François Quénet to talk about his dreams for the future and his decision not ride the 2008 Tour de France.
It was touching to see Pierre Rolland kissing his polka dot jersey at the end of this month's Dauphiné. After getting to know him through his team manager Roger Legeay it's been clear for some time that he was definitely a promising rider, and with his win in the Dauphiné he joins an illustrious list of previous polka dot winners, such as, Charly Gaul (1953), Federico Bahamontès (1963 and 1964), Luis Ocaña (1971, 1972 and 1973), Bernard Hinault (1979, 1981 and 1984) and Richard Virenque (1995 and 1996).
He certainly had to win the jersey the hard way. On the last day towards Grenoble, the 21 year-old fought tooth and nail to counter-attack Bouygues Telecom's Yuriy Trofimov, who had escaped earlier in the stage. It was a fantastic battle with Rolland's team-mate Dmitriy Fofonov, who was the eventual stage winner beating the young Russian at the top of the two first climbs in defence to the young Frenchman's jersey. "Do I have it?" Rolland questioned Legeay after crossing the line.
He was equal on points with Trofimov but having led over the hors catégorie col de la Croix-de-Fer, he'd taken the jersey. Getting a positive answer from Legeay, who had taken him to the start in his personal car as he is the new, enfant prodige of French cycling, the relief was clear to see.
"This jersey is a big symbol," he quietly explained after the stage. "I like climbing and I would like to wear the polka dot jersey at the Tour de France one day as well, but I don't know yet what kind of rider I really am." In the youth categories, Rolland has won races in flat areas like the Loire-Atlantique Espoirs near Nantes but he's never been identified as a pure climber.
After being one of the promising, but not headlining French juniors in 2004, he moved from his home town of Orléans – 100 kilometres south of Paris – to Brittany in order to learn his trade with the Super Sport 35 amateur club run by three former French professionals: Stéphane Heulot, Xavier Jan and Lylian Lebreton.
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(Editorial assistance and research provided by Susan Westemeyer)