A winner at Alpe d’Huez in July, Pierre Rolland (Europcar) is looking forward to testing himself on a new pass at the 2012 Tour de France, as the Col du Grand Colombier makes its long-awaited debut in La Grande Boucle.
17km in length and with slopes that pitch up to 12 percent gradient, the climb features on stage ten from Mâcon. The Col de Richmond follows immediately afterwards before a rapid descent to the finish in Belgarde-sur-Valserine.
“It’s a really nice stage, the Grand Colombier is very, very hard,” Rolland said at the presentation of the Tour route in Paris. “It’s one of the hardest cols in France in terms of gradient, and that’s really going to be one of the key stages of the Tour.”
Though new to the Tour de France, the Grand Colombier is the key difficulty of the Tour de l’Ain in August, and Rolland is hopeful that his experience of that race will pay dividends next season.
“It will be a great stage, because there aren’t too many riders who know that climb well. I’ve ridden it several times at the Tour de l’Ain and it’s really very hard,” he said.
Coming immediately after the Tour’s first rest day, as the race makes its way to the Alps, stage ten has the potential to unravel the aspirations of a number of yellow jersey contenders. “You’ll need to be good that day, but that said, it won’t all be decided just on that stage,” Rolland said.
The Frenchman was broadly enthusiastic about the route as a whole, pointing to the sinuous days in the Vosges and Jura ahead of the Alps, which could well be suited to his Europcar team’s aggressive approach.
“It’s an interesting route,” he said. “There are some medium mountain stages with three, four and five climbs, and they’re made for attacking. There’s a lot to do, something can happen every day.”
Time trial work
As well as triumphing on Alpe d’Huez, Rolland finished 11th overall and carried off the white jersey of best young rider at this year’s Tour. While the Frenchman acknowledged that his work in support of Thomas Voeckler helped him through the three weeks – “when the whole team does a Tour like that, you suffer a lot less mentally” – he is aware that the French public is looking to him to improve on that showing in 2012.
“My whole season was oriented around the Tour already last year,” he said. “But now, I will try to be even more professional and have a more perfectionist approach.”
With two lengthy time trials in the 2012 route, Rolland is well aware that he needs to improve in the discipline if he is to continue his progress.
“You can’t go to a Tour with 100km of time trialling without having worked on that discipline to the maximum,” Rolland said. “That work will start from this winter. I’ll test out material, I’ll work on a new position and then with my trainer we’ll take care of the rest.
“I don’t think I’ve yet reached an age where I’ve stopped improving. I think I can still improve in a lot of areas, and hopefully I’ll make another little progression next year.”