Rolland still waiting on possible Tour de France invite

Vital Concept's new signing knows how important his spring will be

Pierre Rolland will start his first stage race of the season at the Etoile de Bessèges on Thursday without knowing whether he'll be riding this year's Tour de France.

And while at the end of last season the Frenchman hoped he and his new Vital Concept-B&B Hotels team would be given time to prove themselves at the start of this season, Tour boss Christian Prudhomme hasn't given a precise date for the last two wild-card announcements – although it's likely to be in March following the conclusion of Paris-Nice, where Rolland will be expected to shine.

"It's a new situation for me not knowing if I'll race the Tour de France this year," Rolland said in an interview with L'Equipe on Wednesday. "I've raced there for the past 10 years, and have always finished it. It's very important to me."

The 32-year-old joined Pro Continental outfit Vital Concept-B&B Hotels for the 2019 season after four years at Jonathan Vaughters' Cannondale/EF Education First squad, where, other than the high of a stage win at the 2017 Giro d'Italia, Rolland didn't particularly shine.

His big takeaway from the team – other than that Giro stage win – is a vast improvement in his time-trialling ability, describing his improvement as having gone from "bad to average" after considerable testing on the track and time in wind tunnels.

Now back at the heart of a French team, Rolland is looking forward to revisiting the early-season French races he always did with former team Europcar, who he rode for from 2011-2015.

"February's a great month for racing in France," said Rolland, who finished 73rd in his first race of the season at the GP Cycliste La Marseillaise on Sunday.

"It's tough racing, and I missed those races while I was on an American team," he continued. "Those races are part of our culture, our history, and although I understand why they might not interest an American sponsor, as a Frenchman, I need to do them.

"I don't feel as though it's a step backwards, either," he said. "These events are raced with passion, and not 'steamrollered' like some WorldTour events, where everything happens only in the last two kilometres."

Rolland said that there are still things that he wants to achieve in the sport, despite an awareness that time is running out.

"I have to grab my opportunities with both hands, because I know that the biggest part of my career is now behind me," he said. "But on my new team, there are young riders, a young staff, and a young manager [Jérôme Pineau]. I don't feel old, although I must seem it to some of them, but their youth is the best anti-aging remedy there is. We work hard on this team, but we have a laugh, too, and weren't locked away in our rooms like it was some kind of bunker when we had our recent training camps."

While two of the Tour's four wild-card places have already been awarded to Wanty-Groupe Gobert and Cofidis, Rolland knows that his and his team's performances at Paris-Nice may prove vital to his chances of racing in July.

"Paris-Nice is an important race, and to go well there, you have to have raced enough beforehand," he said, referring to his busy early-season race programme, which is made up of Bessèges, the Tour La Provence, the Tour du Haut Var, and the Boucle Drôme-Ardèche, all before Paris-Nice, which takes place from March 10-17.

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