After an unfruitful Tour de France in 2015, where the team fell short of stage wins and didn't manage to crack the top 10 in the general classification, Jonathan Vaughters is looking to new recruit Pierre Rolland to make the Cannondale-Drapac team's race this year.
Speaking at the team's press conference on Thursday, the Cannondale-Drapac team CEO explained that the sweeping changes made to the team and the difficult Tour de France parcours could help the team find more success this time around.
"We got really lucky with how the parcours of the Tour de France is this year. It's hard, it's consistently hard, and it's backend loaded," Vaughters said. "You know that the last week is the hardest week of the Tour de France and we have a guy who is uniquely capable of sort of slow, nasty slugfest," he said of Rolland.
"The Tour de France isn't always that way. The Giro [d'Italia] conversely is always a slow, nasty, slugfest and Pierre has finished fourth at the Giro, his highest ever Grand Tour finish. The Tour de France this year, looking at it, has a little more of 18 rounds, no knock out punches type feel to it and I think Pierre is uniquely suited to that."
Rolland, a two-time Tour de France stage winner - one of which came atop the prestigious Alpe d'Huez - had his best overall finish in 2012 when he was 8th behind Bradley Wiggins. Since then, he has struggled to live up to the promise of being France's next Grand Tour champion. After his win on La Toussuire-Les Sybelles in 2012, he struggled in the first weeks of subsequent Tours and, though he managed to crack the top 10 last year, he had already been eclipsed by younger riders like Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot.
The lean years made Rolland a relative bargain for Cannondale-Drapac, as Vaughters has always run his teams on budgets much smaller than powerhouse squads like Team Sky, Tinkoff and Astana. He's historically made the most of his dollars with riders like Rolland, who are not necessarily the main favourites, but can sneak into a podium fight with a bit of luck and good teamwork.
"When you're playing moneyball and your budget is one third of the big teams you have to look at strange little statistics and see if you can find the diamond in the rough and one of the statistics we found with Pierre was, if you can prevent him losing time in the crosswind stages, in the flat stages, so on so forth," Vaughters said.
"If you just look over the past four of five Tours de France and you put him on par with the other favourites at the start of the mountains where he hasn't conceded 10 minutes or 12 minutes due to a crash, due a crosswind split, so on so forth. If you just put him on par, he is always in the top three of five guys.
"We brought a lot of big, mean Dutch guys to this Tour de France to do our damnedest to put him on par at the base of the mountains. From there on out, it's up to him to be the slugger for the next 16-and-a-half rounds."
Rolland is not the team's only hopeful - in Tom Jelte Slagter, Alex Howes, Lawson Craddock, Sebastian Langeveld, Matti Breschel, Kristijan Koren and Ramunas Navardauskas they have a few options for stage wins or stints in a jersey.
"We've never been conservative, we've always been a little non-sequitur, always have people scratching their heads a little bit. When and where and how that happens, I don't know exactly but I certainly listen. Ryder Hesjedal won the Giro out-smarting a guy that was probably stronger then he was. Andrew Talanksy won the Dauphiné by outsmarting a couple of guys who were probably stronger then he was. I can go on and on with these examples, Johan Vansummeran winning Paris-Roubaix … this team, we've never just out-horsepowered everyone. That's just a function of how we have to play it and we enjoy doing it. This Tour isn't any different in that regard and if you look at historically how Pierre has done well in the Tour de France it's the sneak attack."
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