May 8, 2009 — Dominique Rollin (CervÃ©lo Test Team) is one of a record five Canadians racing at the ProTour level in Europe this season. After two years racing professionally with North American teams and picking up some solid victories, including an epic stage win at last season’s Tour of California, he was ready for the jump over the pond.
The Boucherville, Quebec native found a home with the brand new CervÃ©lo Test Team, riding alongside cycling luminaries such as 2008 Tour de France Champion Carlos Sastre and former Tour Green Jersey winner Thor Hushovd. It’s a huge step up from North America to compete at races like Amstel Gold and Tirreno-Adriatico, but our recent conversation with Dom demonstrated that he’s on the right team and the right track, and is learning the ropes from some of the most knowledgeable riders in the pro peloton.
Hi Dom, how’s it going?
Dominique Rollin: Ok, there are a lot of people on line here so it (our Skype connection) could break up a bit.
Where are you?
DR: The Team house.
So it’s a team house, not your personal house — kind of like a CervÃ©lo dorm?
DR: Yeah, kind of, but it’s much better than a dorm.
There’s not dirty laundry all over the floor?
DR: Hahahaha”¦ not yet”¦
The last time we spoke was before the Tour of California where your teammate Thor Hushovd won a stage, with help of a perfect team lead out. For a new team you guys seemed to click really quickly.
DR: Yeah, things went pretty fast for a brand new team, it all came together within months, so I think we had to bond quite fast. We had a good training camp for two weeks that really helped us start to know each other and work well together. It’s a bit unusual to have such success this fast but I think everyone’s done their work well and is willing to play the game with their new teammates and the new team – so far I think no one can complain!
After California you headed to Europe for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (formerly Het Volk) and finished 12:32 back, but Thor won that race. How tough was it and what was the experience like?
DR: Quite a drastic change, I wasn’t expecting anything like that! You never know what to expect when you come to your first real classic. Unfortunately that day I had a mishap, a puncture so I couldn’t be part of Thor’s success but it was a good way to start the Belgian campaign.
Then Jeremy Hunt was 3rd in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne — how great a start was that for a brand new team with a couple of wins and podiums?
DR: I think it motivated everyone. From (the Tour of) Qatar it went full speed day after day, just getting good results, showing ourselves and proving that we’re not just there to race, we’re there to be the race and to be part of the race and to make it happen. So we weren’t shy or coming into the classics saying “oh, it’s the Belgian’s part, it’s Quick Step, it’s Lotto, we’ll fall behind and hope to do something.” No, we took the bull by the horns and showed ourselves. We’re not here to play around, we’re here to race, we’re here to make it happen.
With ProTour veterans like Hushovd, Hunt, Heinrich Haussler and Andreas Klier on the team, tell us what you’ve been learning from them.
DR: I was surprised and impressed by the knowledge those guys have of those races. Andreas is a walking GPS, he knows every single road at the races. He tells you ahead of time what’s going to happen, what’s coming up, even knows what tactics the teams will come with. He’s such a great guy to have on the team because he’s not greedy about information, he just wants to share and help you. It was such a plus to have him around – not making the race easier, but let’s say having a better approach to the race, knowing what’s coming up and how to approach it and not stressing. It was of a more relaxed ambiance coming to those races compared to not having someone with the knowledge of these races.
I saw that you raced Monte Paschi Eroica and finished 18th. What were the dirt and gravel roads like?
DR: Yeah, it’s a different style of race. Everyone says it’s the Italian version of the classics but actually it’s totally different. The gravel and dirt sections are long. Dirt isn’t cobbles, it’s not the same approach, it’s mostly just riding hard and that’s it. Yeah, I had good fitness at that point and things went well, I was surprised to finish in the top 20. I missed a good group just a lack of punch on the last climb, but that’s part of the process, just knowing how to pace yourself, where to make the good effort and mostly working and working and working on position. The past month and a half doing those new races and classics, that’s mostly what I’ve worked on. Positioning myself and staying calm while everyone’s trying to fight to be at the front.
And that work seems to have paid off. Soon after that you barely missed the podium placing 4th on a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico which Alessandro Petacchi won. Talk about that race, how it developed, what you learned, and did it give you confidence knowing you could race with guys of that caliber and finish at the front?
DR: Sure, it was a great boost to morale, knowing that I’m not even halfway through my season and almost made the podium. It was a good day as well for our team, we had such bad luck at Tirreno. It’s a really nervous race and I think that day five of our guys went down and hit the deck. I managed to be lucky and get around those crashes and stay up. So I finished the job for the team and shy of a podium on the first actual sprint I did over in Europe I think that’s important, that’s more than I’d hoped for. And it was just good experience getting to know what I have to do to be up there but I still have to work on my positioning in the sprint, I’m too much in the wind. It showed in Scheldeprijs (April 15th in Belgium) where I ended up sprinting for 500 or 600 metres in the wind and not sheltering myself enough. I think that would have been the difference between 3rd and 2nd place or a “¦.. (trails off before saying “a victory.”)
To stand on the podium at Scheldeprijs next to the winner Petacchi, one of the world’s best sprinters – what was that feeling like?
DR: That was quite good excitement! But also just a relief after a long period of racing not knowing what actually is my role here? Can I sprint, can I do anything, can I prove myself so thing’s start to happen and they say “we’ll give him a shot — he’s feeling good.” I placed 5th on Monday (at Albert Achterhes Profronde van Drenthe in the Netherlands) so they let me do my thing and I think I proved to the team that I can also do something else other than bring bottles. But it’s not only that”¦I think that we have a great team here where everyone can do something in every race, we just have to come up with good situations and things can turn out pretty good!
How much confidence does that podium finish give you to move up a couple of steps to a victory?
DR: Yeah, it tells me I’m not too far from it, and to just keep doing good work. I had a good gig going over the last two years working with my coach, Brian Walton. It’s the same here but the level is different, the approach to each race is different, the fatigue is different, but it comes down to the same thing, it’s the work you do outside the races that counts, and it shows even faster here and I’ve noticed it lately.
In the Tour of Romandie I had too much fatigue from the Classics and sometimes you learn the hard way. You think you’re still doing ok but these guys are not slowing down and you need some rest. So I’ll have a couple of weeks off, and in three weeks I’ll get back to racing with fresher legs.
Your team Director, Jean-Paul van Poppel, said you rode a great race at the Profonde van Drenthe and perhaps were the best rider on the day. What does that mean coming from a guy like van Poppel who won nine stages at the Tour de France and the Green Jersey?
DR: It’s good to have someone that knows those roads, knows those races and has done something there, not only someone who’s been driving there. Being third at his race – he won Scheldeprijs twice – I think it was exciting for him. It’s good to work with different types of team directors, guys who’ve been competing at these races for years and have seen the improvement and changes in the peloton. It provides a good dose of experience and mental preparation as well. Our sports directors all have unique backgrounds, so this affords a new perspective for each race and something you might not have thought of when you come into a team meeting – or perhaps in the middle of a race, depending on how things unfold.
What kinds of things can you learn from a guy with van Poppel’s sprinting experience and palmares?
DR: It’s hard to say. I think that working after seeing two or three of my sprints, explaining to me how to hide a little bit more, how to move. But Sports Directors don’t have the same approach as another rider. Another rider can show you right in the action as he can be right beside you when it happens so he can tell you a little bit easier than someone riding in a car. It’s more ideas from the way he sees the race unfolding from behind the are of major importance such as coming up with tactics during the race, or knowing this team’s going do this or that — or today we’re in the Netherlands, and it’s Rabobank’s race and they have to show themselves so watch what they’re doing or cover them a little bit more than other teams. He has knowledge of other teams and other races that he’s done before — so ok, Scheldeprijs is not a sprint but this point’s dangerous and this point’s dangerous – more tactics and technical stuff.
What are some of the major differences between racing in North America and racing in these pro races in Europe?
DR: The big differences are more riders, everyone is there to win, and everyone can win. Stronger teams, speed mostly, and the depth of the field. The roads are also different – racing in the U.S. is more like a highway, but here you’re almost on a bike path. There are elements on the roads, obstacles that are more present so you have to pay more attention and the racing is more intense. You have to be focused or you can make a little mistake and it’s either down you go or you’re off the back. I can compare this to a tight criterium for six hours, that’s about the intensity it gets in the classics. The first few ones are really draining because you’re not used to paying attention for six hours, and after a month you’re just exhausted and need a break because you’ve seen too much!
I remember seeing you hop the curb in the final stage of the Tour of Missouri a couple of years ago. Have your bike handling skills come in handy?
DR: Sure all skills are helpful to have and I still need to work on this because there are lots of curbs here, and also islands, and roundabouts you have to go around or sometimes hop at 60km an hour! So yes, it does come in handy as it’s part of the races.
Do you feel like your progress is what you expected so far – what do you still have to work on?
DR: Yeah, I’m a bit surprised that I’ve come up and been part of the racing so quickly. I was expecting it to be a lot harder to make headway in Europe. But there’s still lots to do, there’s still lots to learn. Physically I’m there, I’ve seen in the classics that I can do something, but I’ve also seen that I still need to work a lot on climbing. There are no actual, real climbs in the U.S. The longest ones you’ll find are 10km and they’re 3 or 4% (grade) so in Tirreno I suffered on those 12-15km climbs at 12%. So I still need to work on getting used to managing those longer efforts and that will be the next step over the next few months.
What are the next races on your programme?
DR: The next one is Bayern Rundfahrt (May 26-31) in Germany, then I think I’m going back to Philly (Philadelphia International June 7) so I’ll be back in the U.S.
What are your goals for the rest of the season?
DR: A stage win I think, and getting a win this season would also be great! Otherwise there’s not something major. It’s just getting used to the racing and fitting in more and more with the type of races we’re doing. Hopefully if I start a Grand Tour I’ll be able to get to the finish line at the end.
Is that a possibility for this year, starting a Grand Tour?
DR: Aaaah”¦ probably. It’s on my schedule but nothing is confirmed. I think there are still things I have to prove. My climbing is not good enough at the moment for a Grand Tour, so that’s the next step over the next few months. Just working on climbing because at a Grand Tour there are stages where you do 7,000-8,000 metres if not more of climbing and I’ve never done that.
Thanks and good luck — we’ll catch up to you again soon!
And with that, Dominique headed off to enjoy dinner with his teammates. In our next conversation I’ll be sure to find out more details about the CervÃ©lo team house, and discover more about life off the bike in Europe!