Don't be surprised if you don't see much as usual of Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) this spring. However, when it comes to scaling Mount Etna in the first week of the Giro d'Italia, it could be another story altogether.
The 30-year-old Cannondale-Drapac pro will be doing races like Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya, which he led back in 2015, and has just completed the Ruta del Sol. In all of these, he'll do his best to shine. But this spring there's no Romandie on his program, for example, which has been on his race schedule since 2011, or the Ardennes Classics or Pais Vasco, all of which have featured regularly for Rolland.
With the centrepiece of his year a Giro-Tour double, where - as the French climber told Cyclingnews this December - he'll be focussing on stage wins, Rolland may well not be as high-profile in the spring as he tends to be.
"I also expect to do something in Paris-Nice, because that's a very important race, and I'll ride in the Volta a Catalunya as well, but that period's not the crucial one," he told Cyclingnews during the Ruta del Sol, his first race of the season.
"The really big goal will be to be up there in the Giro d'Italia and then still be fresh in the Tour de France." It will be a "very different approach", he says, to the Giro in particular, where he last raced in 2014, taking fourth overall, "with only about 20 days racing in total".
The change in strategy is one based both on doing the Giro-Tour double for the first time since 2014 and on his and his team's joint decision that he avoid going for the GC in stage races in general. Instead, breaks will be his raison d'etre in both Grand Tours.
"For the Giro we'll have [Davide] Formolo and maybe [Joe] Dombrowski for the GC," he reasons, "and for me, it's a way of looking differently at the race, so I can be more relaxed and look out for the breakaways. I won't have to worry about the flat stages and rainy ones, just do the thing I enjoy." The Giro's stage 4 ascent to Etna, therefore, is one possible target, and so too is the final week of the Giro in general.
The Giro, he says, is a race that is so demanding physically that there is no point in doing it just out of a sense of duty or pure obligation, which partly explains Rolland's change of strategy to one he likes more. "If you're motivated, you can get a heck of a lot out of the Giro. But you won't get anything out of it at all if the sports director has said 'you've got to do it because you're too fat.'"
Rolland, in any case, is in a good place so far this season. "I've had a very good winter, I could do almost everything I wanted in terms of training. Now's the point where I have to get as much data as I can from stage races like the Ruta del Sol." Come May, though, his racing strategy will be far less about gathering information - and far more gung-ho.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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