Pierre Rolland (Europcar) knows that it’s a long way from a freezing Étoile de Bessèges to the white heat of the Tour de France, but the man who will shoulder so much French expectation in July got his season off to a fine start with victory on stage 3 of the early-season race on Friday.
The climber admitted that he is not used to performing so strongly in the opening races of the season, but acknowledged the importance of getting his squad off to a good start. Last year, Thomas Voeckler was already in winning form in February, and Rolland said he was pleased to help lighten the load for the Europcar leader this time around.
“Winning in February is always good for what is to come afterwards,” Rolland told L’Équipe. “I’m not an early-season rider but a win at this time of the year means less pressure for the team, so Voeckler is not alone is assuming the entire weight of the season.”
After the Col de Treylis had already put paid to Marcel Kittel’s (Projct 1t4i) defence of the leader’s jersey, an eight-man group featuring Rolland jumped clear of the peloton 100km into the stage, but they had just 45 seconds in hand on the peloton as they entered the final 20km, which featured three laps of a finishing circuit in Bessèges.
With the bunch breathing down their necks, the break fragmented on the final lap, where Rolland seized the initiative and went on the attack, bringing Franck Vermeulen (Véranda Rideau-Super U) with him. The pair were 15 seconds clear of the chasing pack under the red kit, and Rolland duly held his nerve to hold off Vermeulen in the sprint.
Rolland paid tribute to his breakaway companions’ efforts, and explained that his move was not planned in advance. “I don’t think it would have gone all the way if I hadn’t been accompanied by some warriors,” he admitted. “This Bessèges circuit was complicated and when I saw that the break was starting to run out of steam, I went on the offensive. There was nothing premeditated about it, and the peloton could very well have come back.”
Rolland holds a two-second lead over Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ-BigMat) head of stage 4