He is yet to become a prolific winner but Pierre Rolland can take confidence ahead of some of his biggest season goals now that he has finally knocked-up his first victory of the year. The 26-year-old Frenchman put his time trial skills on show to do it, and in taking the stage win at Circuit Cycliste Sarthe appears likely to capture his first overall title since turning professional with Credit Agricole in 2006.
"It really was cold," joked Rolland after his victory. "But because the stage was always climbing or descending there was a chance to warm up a little."
Rolland attacked inside the final 25km and then powered away from his breakaway companions towards the end of the 'queen' stage, time trialling the final 7km to the finish line in Pré-en-Pail.
His win is no doubt a reward for the blocks of racing and training already completed this year. The two-time Tour de France stage winner is currently in his next phase in the lead-up to an assault on Liège–Bastogne–Liège and with 30 days of racing already in his legs this year, he could be one to watch when La Doyenne comes around.
"I'm feeling better and better. I've worked hard with my trainer to ensure that I'm ready coming into this important stage of the season. You could say that this victory arrived at just the right time for me with Liege-Bastogne-Liege coming up. It is a reward for the hard work I have put in," said Rolland on his team site.
Rolland thanked his teammate Thomas Voeckler for marking the chasers that attempted to bring the Frenchman back into contention but it was too late. Rolland would take the stage by 9 seconds and now leads Jan Barta (NetApp-Endura) by 10 seconds heading into the final road stage.
"In the team we all have a card to play," said Rolland. With Thomas, we form a duo that works well together. We wanted to use this day as a test. It's reassuring for what's next to come. I hope to keep the yellow jersey till the end now. It's good to know that the last stage is also a difficult one."
The versatile Kévin Reza also played a crucial role to setting up Rolland's win and sacrificed his own chances by infiltrating a late-race breakaway that forced the day's leader Luke Durbridge and his Orica GreenEdge teammates into action while RadioShack also came to the fore to try and keep the race under control.
"Kevin was well placed in the general classification and so his made the right move," said directeur sportif Ismael Mottier.
"We were in a great position. Of the eight leaders towards the finish we had two riders who were both highly placed on GC."