Even though he finished only 21st, 2:50 down on stage winner Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad), Europcar's Pierre Rolland was amongst the winners of the Grenoble time trial on Saturday. The 24-year-old defended his white jersey of the best young rider against Rein Taaramae from Cofidis, who was placed 1:33 minutes down on him on general classification.
After his impressive win yesterday on Alpe d'Huez, the overjoyed Rolland experienced a second consecutive day of success - and will be honoured on the final podium in Paris tomorrow.
"This is the most beautiful day of my career," he cheered when he was certain of keeping the jersey lead. "What happened today and what is still to come tomorrow on the Champs Elysées will be just awesome. There are four jerseys to win at the Tour de France and I win one of them!"
In the morning, the lean climber had been nervous about his margin on Taaramae. "I was afraid of losing the jersey because on paper, Rein Taaramae is the better time triallists between us. So I didn't really think I'd be able to keep it. But I also knew that it would be down to who has the better capacity to recover, who would still be fresher between us," he explained.
"I wasn't so much afraid of the climb but more of the descent, because it was long and hard. Then, I had a problem with the radio and I didn't know the gaps." But finally, Rolland managed to put out a respectable performance against the clock, losing only 47 seconds on the Estonian who finished tenth of the stage.
"I put out everything I possibly could, I really transcended myself for this jersey, or perhaps because I was wearing it..." said the rider from Europcar, whose leader Thomas Voeckler successfully defended his fourth overall placing against a very strong Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank).
Rolland will finish this year's Tour de France in 11th position overall, while Taaramae will be 12th in Paris. To many observers - especially the French - the depth of young talent has been exceptional at this year's race, and the Europcar rider is one of five young riders finishing in the top 15 in Paris.
"Rolland and Taaramae, amongst others, are the great hopes of cycling," commented Cofidis team manager Eric Boyer. "There is a new generation that has shown itself at the top at this Tour de France, and it consists mostly of French riders," he added, also citing Jérôme Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) and Jérémy Roy (FDJ), who has been voted the Tour's most combative rider.