Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Voeckler Missery A Blessing For Rolland?

As crashes continue to dominate the first week of the Tour (as is tradition) with Sky's Mark Cavendish and Bernhard Eisel hitting the deck amongst others with 2km to go in today's stage 4 leaving Andre Greipel to take victory in a depleted final sprint, tactics and targets are quietly changing backstage. With Siutsou crashing out yesterday possibly hampering team-mate Bradley Wiggins efforts in the coming weeks to win the overall classification, an equally intriguing scenario may be occurring over at Europcar - With Thomas Voeckler looking ever more likely to abandon, unlike with Team Sky, could his exit play into the hands of team-mate Pierre Rolland?...

Thomas Voeckler was struggling with a niggling knee injury two weeks ago but thought he'd cured it coming into the Tour. He now says he's getting stabbing pains and with a mountainous weekend coming up I would be surprised if he's still riding his bike next week. Voeckler already finds himself over 7 minutes down on the leaders, any hope of a podium finish are already dead and buried but Voeckler did hope to keep riding, switching rolls and riding as domestique for team mate and rising French star Pierre Rolland.

Last year Europcar came into the Tour with modest aims of getting riders in breakaways and receiving some airtime. They found themselves defending the yellow jersey for 10 days as Thomas Voeckler battled his way to a surprise fourth spot overall. Quietly, in the background, Pierre Rolland finished 10th and at the age of 24, took the White Young Leaders jersey home with him. Not only this, but as the Tour ramped upwards Rolland rode away from Samuel Sanchez and Alberto Contador to take a remarkable victory on Alpe d’Huez. The first Frenchman to win on d'Huez since Bernard Hinault in 1986. In fact, though the team arrived last year with few ambitions, it's said that Rolland packed a white watch into his suitcase ahead of the Tour to match the white jersey (he hadn't even won yet). He has confidence, he can climb, he can win. France now Expects.

The problem is, the French public and media get rather excited whenever a new prospect comes along. The Tour is everything to them and any favourite will be piled mountain high with pressure from anticipating press and fans alike. Some riders handle that better than others and Rolland himself said he found it comfortable last year working for Voeckler because nobody had any expectations for himself to do well, he managed to ride his own race and take his opportunities without feeling any pressure to do so. With Voecklers podium hopes in tatters, this year Rolland will inevitably take that pressure but this too could work in his favour - no longer a domestique he can ride as a leader, he has already done so and looked strong so far this season in races such as the Dauphine. He's young but talented and level headed, he's ridden the Tour before and finished 10th, he knows he can better that and now all other responsibilities have been lifted, 2012 has become the perfect opportunity for him. If he can hold himself well in the Time Trials and climb like he did on Alpe d'Huez, then Rolland really could be a wild card.

1 comment:

  1. Once again, thanks for the interesting and thoughtful post. I am really enjoying the Tour de France more ths year thanks to your insights.