By Jean-François Quenet in Beijing
The youngest member of the French cycling team, Pierre Rolland, 21 years-old, represents the future of French Cycling. The ambitious racer has competed with the best in the world at Paris Nice, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré.
He was judged too young to compete in the Tour de France for his Crédit Agricole team, despite winning the mountains classification at the Dauphine. With his team unlikely to continue into 2009, Rolland will leave in order to join Bouygues Telecom at the end of the year. Before the move to be a leader on his new team, he will lend his services to Jérôme Pineau and Pierrick Fedrigo at the foot of the Great Wall of China.
Rolland never expected to find himself in Beijing in August. "At the beginning of the year I told myself that although it was an Olympic year, it wasn't one of my projects to come to Bejing. I did not think I was capable of being a member of the French Team. I also though that there would be only four representatives instead of five," he said.
"Then I thought a little of the Olympics before the Dauphiné [at the beginning of June]. After the French championships [where he finished 7th -ed.], I was pre-selected, and I trained myself for the Olympics during the Tour de France."
Rolland was selected for the team ahead of other, more senior riders, but said the honour was something he could not refuse. "It is a sort of continuation of the beginning of my season. It was not logical but almost," he said. "This year has been good for me. One does not refuse a selection for the Olympic Games. I've previously been selected to the national squad while racing in the junior categories, but never before as a professional. It is an enormous honour to be here."
After taking in the course, which heads north from Beijing into the mountains for a challenging circuit, Rolland said he may find the race to be more difficult because of the air quality and weather. "It is a beautiful circuit, which in normal times would work well for me, but in training, I found it very difficult to breathe fully. The conditions are not favourable for cycling - the conditions are what will determine the race. The same circuit, in Europe, would be less hard."
Other riders weren't adversely affected, however. "In training, I saw Jérôme Pineau was looking really good. The circuit will be equally good for Pierrick Fedrigo. We have not already figured out our tactics, but I am going to put myself at their service. If a small group arrives at the sprint, they will have the chance to do well."
With France coming up against two Grand Tour winners in Carlos Sastre and Alberto Contador, Rolland knows exactly who will be important to watch. "Spain has a super team. Italy, too [with the last Olympic champion Paolo Bettini]. and Luxembourg [with the brothers Schleck and Kim Kirchen]. But they have two arms and two legs like us."
However, he said that the race would be difficult to call because of the small team sizes. "The surprise could come from any team because no team will be able to control the race with there being only five riders per nation and not nine like at the World Championships."