Pierre Rolland has called for his new squad Vital Concept to be given a chance to earn Tour de France selection in the early part of the 2019 season. The Frenchman joins the Pro Continental squad from EF Education First-Drapac and is aiming to make his 11th consecutive Tour appearance.
In 2018, ASO announced the Tour’s four wildcard invitations in the first week of January, before Vital Concept had raced competitively, and the new squad was overlooked for one of the four wildcard places. Manager Jerome Pineau has looked to buttress the roster for their second campaign. Sprinter Bryan Coquard remains in situ, while the new arrivals include Rolland, Cyril Gautier and former French champion Arthur Vichot.
“I’ve done ten Tours de France in a row, which is something quite difficult to imagine,” Rolland told Ouest France. “But every year, whether you’re in a WorldTour team or not, you’re not sure of being there. There’s always a bit of uncertainty. You need to be among the best eight riders on the team and fit in with the strategy. Now, the question of [the team] being selected also comes into play. We hope to be there, and we’ll do everything we can to do that. We just hope that the invitations aren’t handed out on January 1.”
The four wildcards teams at the this year's Tour de France were Cofidis, Wanty-Groupe Gobert, Direct Energie and Fortuneo-Samsic, while Vital Concept had to make do with a limited diet of WorldTour stage racing in 2018. Although they were invited to the Critérium du Dauphiné, they missed out on all of the Grand Tours and Paris-Nice.
“We’re depending on invitations,” Rolland said. “I hope that they give us time to show the jersey and prove ourselves before the invitations are given.”
Rolland has finished in the top 10 of the Tour on three occasions – he was best young rider in 2011 – and took fourth at the 2014 Giro d’Italia, but he placed a greater emphasis on chasing stage victories in recent years. The stand-out success of his three-year tenure on EFEducation First-Drapac (formerly Cannondale) was a stage at Canazei on the 2017 Giro d'Italia.
“It was complicated at times, but it was a good experience, very enriching from a personal point of view,” Rolland said of his time at the American WorldTour team.
After spending time riding in support of Rigoberto Uran in recent seasons, the 32-year-old will enjoy greater freedom to go on the offensive at Vital Concept.
“I won’t have a leader to accompany to the final climb. I’m going to find a form of freedom that suits me 100 percent,” he said.