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Rolland gets payback in Giro stage 17

CANAZEI, Italy (VN) — Pierre Rolland joined Cannondale-Drapac in 2016 as the team’s “Moneyball” bet on the Tour de France.

Team boss Jonathan Vaughters was convinced that the veteran Frenchman, who won on Alpe d’Huez and finished in the top-10, had the statistics to surprise the big-budget super-teams.

So for 2016, Rolland prepared 100 percent for the Tour, spending weeks at altitude in Tenerife, and came into the Tour ready to race. But as often happens in professional cycling, the incalculable factor of luck didn’t conform. Rolland hit the deck in stage 8, and again in stage 19, and the team’s GC hopes sunk with him.

Flash forward to 2017, and Rolland headlines a Cannondale-Drapac Giro team packed with stage-hunters. And on Wednesday, the elements added up. Rolland used his racing acumen and sturdy legs to come home the winner.

“This is my biggest win since Alpe d’Huez, and it really means a lot to me,” said Rolland, referring to his 2011 stage win. “Last year, I prepared 100 percent for the Tour de France. It was my first year with Cannondale-Drapac, but it was a black year. I crashed, and all was lost. I was very disappointed. This year, I took a different approach, and prepared 100 percent for the Giro, but with the idea of winning a stage. I tried a few times, and came close, but I knew today was the day.”

The victory was a salve to last year’s disappointments, and a payback to his team.

It’s the first European WorldTour victory for Cannondale-Drapac since Davide Formolo won a stage in the 2015 Giro. Last week, Andrew Talansky delivered a WorldTour win with a stage at the Amgen Tour of California.

For Cannondale-Drapac, the stage victory is mission accomplished after third in stage 11 by Rolland, and fifth by Michael Woods in stage 6.

“He really deserves [it]. He’s a great teammate, always working hard, always on the attack,” Formolo said. “He’s been second, third, second, so for him to get this victory is important not only for the team, but also payback for his sacrifices.”

Rolland was on the attack in several stages, and on Wednesday it finally stuck. Coming on the heels of the decisive stage over the Mortirolo and Stelvio, stage 16, with two early rated climbs, had breakaway written all over it. Rolland went away early with two others. A big group came up behind them, including Woods and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing).

“I attacked from kilometer zero,” Rolland said. “I knew today was the day. It was very difficult. We made it up the climbs, but there was movement behind, and my sport director gave the right advice to wait for the bigger group. I tried to save my legs for the final.”

Attacks came in the grinding, un-categorized climb into Canazei in the closing 20km. Woods made several surges to set up Rolland’s winning acceleration with 7km to go. No one immediately followed. The others were trapped, especially with Woods marking dangerous rivals Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) and Rory Sutherland (Movistar). Rolland buried himself, and held a 20-second lead at the red kite.

“The breakaways are always hard to win, but I knew today there was the best chance,” Rolland said. “Tomorrow will be impossible, with the GC still open, and I know I will not be able to beat Nibali and Quintana.”

Rolland, 30, now will try the second act, and deliver on the promise he made in last year’s Tour. As the saying goes, a stage win is worth more than a top-10 on GC if you’re truly not fighting for the podium. It’s a strategy that paid off handsomely in this Giro.

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