It is said that a change is as good as a rest, and Pierre Rolland is embracing the changes in his first season at Cannondale. Rolland had spent nine seasons on French teams, including seven with Jean-Rene Bernaudeau – whose team is now known as Direct Energie – before he made the surprise move to the American team.
It has been an eye-opening experience for Rolland, not least due to Cannondale's different approach to racing. “Last year I rode 95 race days and this year it is very low. I have just ridden a few races,” Rolland told Cyclingnews at Cannondale’s altitude training camp on Mount Teide, another first for the Frenchman.
“Before, I was preparing to race in the races, but now I am preparing to race in training. This is probably the biggest thing for me. Before I was starting my season in February and doing race after race, but now I do one small race in February, then a month’s training, another race and then three weeks training.”
In 2016, Rolland has competed in 21 race days so far, compared to the 35 he’d ridden by the same time last year. The other major difference for Rolland has been his teammates. Last year, he had just three non-French teammates (and one of those was French Canadian) but he is now the sole native French speaker of the team’s 30 riders. It has been a steep learning curve for the 29-year-old, who up until his move to the team had no cause for learning English.
“In Europcar it was very much a family team, and it was 90 per cent French riders. In here, there are 15 nationalities and all sorts of environments. It’s very good for opening your mind, speaking a new language and it is a very big change,” Rolland explained.
“In October, I arrived at the first camp in Aspen not speaking English, and now I speak a little bit. I understand ok, and I am able to speak to my teammates or in meetings. I was a little bit apprehensive that I wouldn’t be able to understand, or that I wouldn’t be able to communicate.”
He tries to play it down, but his English has come on leaps and bounds and has impressed many of his teammates. From being able to say nothing more than 'hello', 'goodbye' and 'thank you', he can converse relatively freely with his teammates and has got to grips with the American humour. Two weeks with his team on Teide has given him a helping hand.
“Now I can speak French, Italian, Spanish, English; every language is in the team. I can understand every rider,” he joked.
Finding the extra 10 per cent
Rolland has settled into the team quickly in the first four months of his tenure. His move to the team was perhaps something of a surprise after so long with the same team but Rolland believes that he was beginning to stagnate at Europcar and believes that Cannondale will help him close the gap to the limits of his potential.
“I think in the last two years, I didn’t make too much progress. I had good results every year but not the best. I don’t think I was 100 per cent in myself, and I think that I was only at 90 per cent each time. In this team, I am looking for that final 10 per cent for the best results,” said Rolland.
“I got into a routine, and I wanted to move for a change, for evolution, to open my mind to something different, and a new environment, tactics and training. We start a new challenge, and I have new objectives.”
Rolland’s first months with the team have been fairly average with 18th at Paris-Nice his best result thus far. He fell sick with bronchitis after the race, which set him back for his subsequent races. However, after enjoying a few weeks away from racing, he believes that he is back on track ahead of the Tour de Romandie.
One thing that hasn’t changed for Rolland is his main target for the season, which will as ever be the Tour de France. He will take up joint leadership with Andrew Talansky, who also attended the Teide training camp. The winner of the young rider’s classification at the Tour de France in 2011, and 10th overall, he has since finished in the top 10 on two more occasions. With plenty of racing between now and the start of the Tour in July – at the Tour de Romandie and the Criterium du Dauphine, he is trying to keep it out of his mind.
“The first thing that I am thinking about is Romandie,” said Rolland. “After Romandie, I will go for a recon in the Alps, and I will do a training camp. After Romandie, you think about the Tour every day but before Romandie, it is not good to because you have to race. After Romandie, you start counting down.”
When asked what he could do and if he might be able to improve on his previous best of eighth place, he remained just as non-committal.
“Top five is good. Climber’s jersey, I don’t know. Maybe I can win one stage. Any of these will be good for me,” he said with a smile. “It’s too long away to think about it. You don’t want to be thinking about it 300 days before.”