After two seasons with Jonathan Vaughters' EF Education First-Drapac squad, Pierre Rolland will drop down to Pro Continental level and return to a French team, signing for Vital Concept Cycling Club on a two-year deal.
The team was created by Jérôme Pineau last autumn and started racing this year, with sprinter Bryan Coquard the team's leader. Rolland has known Pineau since 2008 and the pair had spoken when the team was being established, but Rolland still had a year to run on his contract with EF-Drapac.
"When it came to making my choice for the next two seasons, joining the Vital Concept Cycling Club was obvious," said Rolland. "It was a project that really grabbed my attention, the one that excited me the most."
The 31-year-old Frenchman started his career with Crédit Agricole in 2007 and then joined Jean-René Bernaudeau's Direct Energie team - then known as Bbox Bouygues Telecom and later as Europcar - in 2009, where he stayed for seven years.
In 2011 he finished 10th overall at the Tour de France, winning a stage atop l'Alpe d'Huez and also winning the white jersey for best young rider. The following year he won another mountain stage and finished eighth overall. His best Grand Tour placing came at the 2014 Giro d'Italia, where he was fourth overall, while he was 11th and 10th at the 2014 and 2015 Tours.
In 2016 he joined Vaughter's American-registered team and switched his ambitions to stage hunting in the Grand Tours. That came good at the 2017 Giro when he won on stage 17, which was one of two wins - along with a stage of the 2017 Route du Sud - for the team. This year he finished eighth overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné but was unable to make any impact in the mountain breaks at the Tour.
"I have already participated in nine Tours de France, two Giri, three Vueltas and I still have many dreams to accomplish," said Rolland.
"After seeing the birth of the team and the way it went through the first part of the season, I know that I fit perfectly into the project. I'm coming for the group that is being formed, for the atmosphere there, and to bring added value to it. Cycling is such a difficult sport that it’s essential to practice it surrounded by people we love."
The move to Vital Concept was announced by the team with a special video on Thursday, which showed a plan trailing a banner that read: 'Attaque de Pierre Rolland' ('Attack from Pierre Rolland') in a nod to the race radio and television commentary that would regularly be heard as he went on the offensive.
In joining Vital Concept, however, Rolland is not guaranteed to be at next year's Tour. The team had hoped to ride the Tour this year in their debut season as one of the four wildcard Pro Conti teams. However, Tour organisers ASO opted to give the wildcards to fellow Brittany-based outfit Fortuneo-Samsic, Rolland's former team Direct Energie, long-standing participants Cofidis, and Belgian squad Wanty Groupe Gobert.
Rolland is the third rider to join Vital Concept since the transfer window opened last week - following Jimmy Turgis from Cofidis and Cyril Gautier from AG2R La Mondiale - and adds versatility to the team, leading in the mountains and stage races while Coquard takes on the sprints.
"I've known Pierre since the Beijing Olympics, where we teamed up in the tricolor jersey. He has matured a lot and now needs to race more, especially at the beginning of the season, in the south of France or anywhere else, in one-week races which are well suited to Pierre," said Pineau.
"He is only 31 and is a rider of very high level, who’s still a man to watch in the biggest races. He wants to win whenever the road rises and with the Vital Concept Cycling Club, he will start each race to make the most of it. He still has beautiful pages to write, provided he rediscovers the pleasure of cycling and develops in a group that he will enjoy and that fits him. Pierre is a team player, who has no problem making sacrifices and helping others reach higher, a great professional who will set an example to the youngest riders."
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