Tour de France07/07/2012 - 18:34 - Updated 07/07/2012 - 19:25
Rolland makes an impression
Injured on Friday in a big crash, Pierre Rolland put in a superb performance on Saturday to allay any fears over his fitness. Rolland took a solid seventh place in the race's first summit finish at La Planche des Belles Filles in the Vosges mountains.
One day after hurting his elbow in the massive pile-up which blighted Friday's stage six to Metz, Pierre Rolland rose to the occasion on the Tour de France's first foray into the mountains. 25-year-old Rolland held his own with the race's best climbers on the first-category Planche des Belles Filles climb to take seventh place at the finish.
Rolland finished the 199km stage seven through the Vosges mountains 46 seconds behind stage winner Chris Froome (Team Sky) and is now 23rd in the overall stansdings, three minutes and twenty-seven seconds down on new yellow jersey, Britain's Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky).
"It is a huge satisfaction," said Team Europcar directeur sportif Andy Flickinger. "We must not forget that on Friday he fell badly. We were very anxious about him but he responded well today. He put in a beautiful final ascent. It's already a big relief to see that his physical condition is exceptional."
Impressive on the final climb, it did not take much for the Orleans rider to give it his best shot. "He couldn't get out of the saddle but we have something to celebrate because he finished first out of all the riders affected by yesterday's crash," Flickinger added.
Also much under the spotlight, Thomas Voeckler reassured fans and the team about his condition. Voeckler put in a measured final climb to finish inside the top 25 and lose just two minutes to the stage winner. "It bodes well for Thomas. He is riding better and better. He'll keep plugging away these next few days and then we will see that he may pull something off," said Flickinger.
One certainty is that if Voeckler is still feeling pain in his knee, his condition is clearly improving. "That's the first time in the race that I have felt relaxed on the bike," the 33-year-old said as he dismounted from his bike after the stage.
Another bright point for Team Europcar on Saturday was Cyril Gautier's ride in the breakaway. After Gene, Kern, Bernaudeau and Malacarne, the 24-year-old was the latest Europcar rider to ride off the front of the pack in a breakaway group. Gautier was part of an experienced seven-man group which broke clear inside the first 20km and stayed out until the closing moments of the stage. Gautier also took the stage's intermediate sprint at Gerardmer.
"It was encouraging for Cyril and this will give him more experience. There was some very good riders in the group. That he was dropped before the final climb is not serious. On the day that he can win a stage, he will know how to go the distance," said Flickinger.
On Sunday, Team Europcar will look to make an impression in the 157.5km undulating stage eight through the Jura mountains from Belfort to Porrentruy. With six minor climbs and the Cat.1 ascent of the Col de la Croix before a 16km descent to the finish, the stage could well offer the team the first proper chance of a win.
"It's a stage which suits us well so we are going to have to try and get out in front," stressed Flickinger. The fans will wait with eager anticipation...