Tour de France12/07/2012 - 18:57 - Updated 12/07/2012 - 20:18
Rolland - king of the Alps
One year after his victory at Alpe d'Huez, Pierre Rolland struck again with a sweet win at La Toussuire. Having attacked 125km from the finish, Rolland benefited from some excellent work by Christophe Kern before riding off in a four-man break and then alone to the summit of the final climb.
If Rolland's performance in last year's Queen Stage of the Tour showed just how much at home the climber feels when riding in the Alps, then his equally emphatic win on Thursday's stage 11 of the Tour confirmed his supremacy.
Winner atop Alpe d'Huez in 2011, Rolland took things to another level after riding 10km of the seemingly interminable final ascent to La Toussiure on his own to secure yet another memorable win for himself – and a second victory in as many days for Team Europcar.
"This stage, it's been in my dreams for six months," said Rolland. "This is the Queen Stage for me, because it is the most difficult, because it's in the Alps and the Alps is my home."
Team Europcar directeur sportif Dominique Arnould was equally ecstatic. "We had a completely crazy day. Pierre absolutely dominated this stage. He needed to go for broke and he did it from distance. I take my hat off to him," he said.
What a victory it was indeed. Rolland jumped clear of the peloton in the wheel of Christophe Kern about 23km into the 148km stage at the beginning of four categorised climbs, the fearsome HC Col de la Madeleine.
The two riders reached the leading group of around 30 man – including Davide Malacarne – and then both Kern and the Italian dedicated themselves to shedding numbers and setting up Rolland for the win.
Kern took control of a 20-man group at the foot of the second HC climb of the day, the Col de la Croix de Fer. Setting a phenomenal pace, Kern ensured that the leading group was halved in size by the time Rolland crossed the summit in pole position, with the yellow jersey main group riding more than four minutes in arrears.
"Christophe opened the way for Pierre after putting in a massive stint on the front," said Arnould, proud of his man.
Rolland took the points over the third climb of the day, the Cat.2 Col du Mollard, which he crossed ahead of Robert Kiverlovski (Astana), Vasil Kiryienka (Movistar) and Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank).
But on the descent, disaster: entering a tight bend holding the wrong line, Rolland skidded and fell on his left hip. Picking himself off, Rolland got back on his bike and maintained his cool, catching the other escapees before the final first-category climb of the day.
With 10km remaining, Rolland made his decisive move. Jumping out of the saddle, the 25-year-old from Orleans put in a huge surge of pace which left his opponents floundering. Two minutes further back, the battle for the GC was hotting up as Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) attacked the yellow jersey group, from which defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC) was being distanced.
But Rolland held his nerve to cross the line 55 seconds ahead of compatriot Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Britain's Chris Froome (Team Sky).
Rolland moves up from 20th to 8th in the GC, 8:31 down on yellow jersey Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky). Rolland is also second in the polka dot jersey standings, 11 points behind the Swede Frederik Kessiakoff (Astana).
"The polka dot jersey could become an objective for us now but Pierre could also target a top five finish in Paris," said directeur sportif Andy Flickinger.
On the rest day, Jean-Rene Bernaudeau had said: "Our Tour starts in the Alps". After two wins in as many days, the Europcar team manager couldn't have been more right.