Pierre Rolland will take over from Alpe d'Huez hero Christophe Riblon as he'll wear the popular polka dot jersey during the last mountain stage of the Tour de France from Annecy to Annecy/Semnoz on Saturday, but he admitted he'll have an extremely difficult task succeeding his compatriot and teammate Thomas Voeckler as the winner of the King of the Mountains competition. Tour de France leader Chris Froome (Sky) still leads the classification, with Rolland just one point shy of the Briton in second.
The Europcar climber looked exhausted at the finish today in Le Grand Bornand as his 50km-long solo ride took its toll. Rolland rejoined lone leader Ryder Hesjedal 4.5 kilometres before the top the Col de la Madeleine and passed in first position the highest summit of the Alps this year (2000m above sea level). The lanky Canadian couldn't follow him as they began climbing the Col de Tamié with 70km to go.
"When I found myself at the front with Hesjedal, I believed he was the right guy to be with," Rolland said. "He's a very courageous and generous rider. Unfortunately, today he wasn't at the level he had for winning the 2012 Giro d'Italia. Had he been just as strong as last year in May, I'm convinced it would have been hard for anyone to catch us." The Garmin-Sharp Canadian has been hampered in his current Tour de France with a broken rib suffered on the opening stage.
"It doesn't often happen to me but I cramped badly," Rolland continued. "I adjusted my pedaling style to my suffering. It had been a long effort, mostly solo. I was targeting both the stage victory and the polka dot jersey. It all depended on the circumstances of racing.
"After having thought of winning all day and when I realized that I wouldn't even come second or third [after being passed by eventual stage winner Rui Costa with 20km to go], my head and body both fell apart."
The Frenchman collected enough points to move up to second place in the King of the Mountains competition, only one point down on Chris Froome, so he'll wear the polka dot jersey again on stage 20 after doing so in the early part of the Tour de France in Corsica and after. He admitted that he got excited about wearing the polka dot jersey to such an extent that he switched his goal and gave up his initial ambition of riding for GC like last year (when he finished 8th overall).
His move was also dictated by the uncertainties over the future of the Europcar team until the rental company announced the renewal of their sponsorship during the second rest day. "I didn't want to ask too much from my teammates who weren't sure to get a job for next year," Rolland said.
"Because of Froome and [Nairo] Quintana being so strong in the climbs, I had kind of given up my ambition for the polka dot jersey," he added at Le Grand Bornand. "That's why I'm more disappointed to have missed out on the stage win here today.
"Now my chances of taking the lead in the KOM are real but slim. Considering the 50 points up for grabs at the finish up the Semnoz, it's almost impossible for me to make it, unless I can do it from a breakaway. But I presume the favorites like Saxo and Movistar will play for the stage victory. It looks complicated for me to make the top ten, so all depends on my possibilities to take points earlier on. Recovering from today's ride is already a difficult task.
"Shall I ride around the Champs-Elysées with the polka dot jersey on my shoulders but without the pleasure of going on stage and receiving it at the very end of the Tour, I'd be very disappointed," Rolland concluded.