By Andrew Hood
Dominique Rollin is expected to start Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (ex-Het Volk) this weekend in Belgium, culminating a long road that’s taken him from Canada to the most important races in Europe.
The 25-year-old Canadian will be a key member of Cervélo’s spring classics squad and he’s relishing the opportunity to race the events that he dreamed about as a boy back in Montreal.
Rollin should know some of the circuits well. He raced three years as an amateur at VC Roubaix and lived at the storied velodrome where Paris-Roubaix finishes each year.
Rollin talked to VeloNews about how he got started, what he learned about racing as an amateur under Cyril Guimard and why he dreams of winning Paris-Roubaix. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews: How did you begin to race bikes?
Dominique Rollin: As a Canadian, cycling is not one of the biggest sport. My brother started racing the year before me. I had fun following him on my mountain bike while he was on his road bike. He kept shouting, ‘go back home! Leave me alone!’ I enjoyed it and started racing the following year. My first race was 10 years old.
VN: What kind of racing experience did you have in Europe as an amateur?
DR: I raced three years as an amateur in France. I’ve seen the worse of France; I lived in Roubaix. I was racing with VC Roubaix under Cyril Guimard, living at the velodrome. It’s not the best place to have a social life. They want you to bike, bike, bike. It was learning the hard way.
VN: What lessons did you learn?
DR: In three years of France, I learned the European style of racing. Whereas in the United States, the race is short enough that it’s full-speed all out. There’s a big gap between the amateur level in France, it’s survival in the first hour, it full bloc. If you hang on for the first hour, you’re out there and you going to finish in the top 20 because there are only 20 guys left. That was one of the funny things about racing there. Most of the races we were doing, we were driving six to eight hours away from there to go to them in the central or south France, while just across the border at 20km, there were kermesses or UCI races in Belgium. It was against French regulation to go across the border.
VN: Did you learn anything special under Guimard?
DR: A few little things. I gained confidence in myself. It was such a harsh school. It was more learning to stay focused on what my personal needs compared to whatever pressure from the outside. One example was how they deal with food in France. When you go to races, you have a buffet, and you have all your teammates staring at your plate when you sit down to eat, you feel guilty for eating. You’re afraid of eating too much. It takes awhile to get used to it over there. Finally I said, ‘I had a hard day, I deserve this, I am going to eat a full meal.’ Why should I do like them, and have cookies hidden in the room? I will eat in the restaurant. I will eat when it’s time to eat and not deprive myself and then go through a couple packs of candies in the hotel room. Half their luggage is food and they just hide it from the staff. It’s a matter of knowing yourself.
VN: How did those lessons help when you came back to race professionally in the United States?
DR: France almost cracked me with the lack of support I had, just because they don’t really help. You’re there for riding, and they remind you every day. Coming back in the U.S., I just wanted to have the proper tools. I started working with a coach and brought all the tools I needed so I could succeed and focus on my training. When I am off the bike, I can relax, think about other stuff and have a life. The U.S. circuit isn’t the best circuit to have a social life, because you’re traveling so much. The travel is so hard and being in Canada it makes it even harder with the border now. It’s easier to live in the U.S.
VN: A Canadian on a Canadian team, tell us how you arrived at Cervélo?
DR: I am from Montreal, they’re from Toronto. We didn’t know each other real well. I was looking forward moving to Europe after two years on the U.S. circuit. I was tired of riding criteriums between big races, because it’s not the best way to keep your fitness. It was a normal progression. At one point, you want to make it to the big leagues, you want to make it in Europe. After my results in Tour of California (2008), me and my coach, Brian Walton, we started looking at possibilities to make the big step. We started talking to a couple of teams. My stage win in Tour of California helped by beating George Hincapie and Camaño, the stage finish in the hometown of Columbia, we had all of the pieces. When Cervélo started talking about making a team, they personally contacted my coach.
VN: I understand many riders will be living near the team’s base in Switzerland, is that where you will be?
DR: I will be close to the team warehouse and facilities. It will be easier to get to know how the team works and all the basics. It will simplify everything.
VN: What race do you dream to win?
DR: Hell of the North. It’s one classic that I always looked to. It’s a hard man race. It needs good tactic qualities, but also a strong man to get through it. I put it up there as one of the hardest one-day races on the earth. This is the type of race I’d like to do well at. I’ve proven myself I can be up there in the hard condition. I’ve been based around there and I know the cobbles well. We did a few races on the cobbles. It takes good experience and you have to know the race. This year, I just want to be good help to my teammates who know the race well, like Roger Hammond, Jeremy Hunt, and try to learn as much as I can from them. Know how to read the race, pressure your energy, 260km is a hell of a day.