After a troubled start to the Tour de France, Pierre Rolland claimed Europcar's second stage win in as many days at La Toussuire on Thursday, following in the wheel tracks of his team leader Thomas Voeckler.
The darlings of the French public twelve months ago – when Rolland announced his arrival at world level and Thomas Voeckler spent a remarkable ten days in yellow – a shadow was cast over Europcar's fairytale on the eve of this year's race. As the Tour began in Liège, it emerged that the squad had been placed under investigation for suspected use of corticosteroids and intravenous vitamin solutions in 2011.
"At the beginning, I didn't pay any attention to the story, but I was affected when I was jeered during the prologue," Rolland said in his post-race press conference. "That evening I was depressed and I even thought of going home if the Tour was going to be like that, but the public was more supportive once we got to France."
Rolland, who had struggled with a knee injury earlier in the season, saw his general classification aspirations dented during the crash-littered opening week. The Frenchman quickly took the decision to focus exclusively on chasing stage victory, even if his efforts on Thursday saw him move up to 9th overall."
"Moving up a place or two on GC, from 10th to 9th and so forth, is important for WorldTour points, but in terms of racing, only the podium counts," he said. "When you're not looking to defend a placing, it means that you can take more risks to win stages."
Rolland duly infiltrated the early break, which formed ahead of the Col de la Madeleine, and thanks to his teammate Christophe Kern's pressing on the Col de la Croix de Fer, he was part of a four-man leading group as the final climb to La Toussuire began, alongside Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Robert Kiserlovski (Astana) and Vasili Kiryienka (Movistar).
It was familiar situation for Rolland, who took victory on a strikingly similar stage to l'Alpe d'Huez last year, dropping no less a figure than Alberto Contador in the process. The Frenchman repeated the dose here, jumping clear of his companions on the early slopes of the final ascent, and holding off the chasing yellow jersey group to claim the second Tour stage win of his career.
"It was a similar stage to l'Alpe d'Huez, a short stage but with long climbs," he said. "There were 60km of climbing in that stage last year, 70km this year. It was the most beautiful stage of the Tour."
Earlier, Rolland had fallen on the descent of the penultimate climb, the Col du Mollard, but mercifully, he was quickly back in the saddle. "I just thought of my mother and hoped she wasn't watching," he said. "I've had too much bad luck on this Tour to give up."
While Rolland's stage victory means that his Tour is already a success, he was optimistic about his chances of making a further impact later in the race, particularly given his experiences of twelve months ago. "From the stage win at the Alpe and working for Thomas [Voeckler], I learned that I was capable of going well in the third week," he said.