The probably untrue story of Pierre Rolland’s unbridled French patriotism

Did Rolland's heart rate surge when he saw a French flag by the roadside?

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Mark Twain once said, “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”. While that may be appalling advice for matters of public importance, stories affecting national security, or circumstances affecting people’s actual lives, this story is about bike racing. And while it may not in fact be true, we don’t think that’s a reason not to tell it.

The Tour de France press room, bus paddock, and the restaurants and bars of the towns the race touches are hotbeds of gossip and anecdotes. Some funny, some shocking, some unfortunately very, very unprintable.

But here is a printable one appropriately published just after Bastille Day, when all of France celebrates the fact that they are French.

The story takes place when Pierre Rolland was riding for the team that is now EF Education-EasyPost, which dates this tale as taking place some time between 2016-2018.

When riding a time trial at the Tour de France, Pierre Rolland rode past a French flag and such was his love for his home country that his heart rate went up.

This is a perfectly French Tour de France story. One that speaks to the purity of the event rather than the result. One that speaks to a rider committed to futile ‘no guts no glory’ breakaway moves over protecting ninth in the general classification.

Of course, without knowing the specific section of road it’s impossible to verify whether his heart rate could have also increased due to a change in effort or gradient, rather than undiluted national pride.

Nevertheless, it was time to speak to the people at the heart of the tale.

“The Tour de France is the most important race in the world, when you are French it’s also different because it’s a dream of young riders to do this race,” Rolland began when asked about his relationship with the Tour de France. “When you do it it’s a dream come true.”

OK, off to a good start; we’ve so far confirmed that Pierre Rolland does indeed like the Tour de France and has at least an ounce of national pride. In a further attempt to gauge him, how does this, his 13th Tour de France, compare to his first one back in 2009?

“For sure it’s not the same excitement as the first one because at that beginning you never know where things are going to go,” Rolland admitted. “I know my body’s feeling, I know everything and I know a lot of people everywhere. But the excitement for the racing is always the same. I know exactly the performance or what you do is more important here.”

With Rolland warmed up, it was time to launch in with the question we actually wanted answered.

“Pierre, is it true that when you were riding for Cannondale, that during a Tour de France time trial you saw a massive French flag by the side of the road and your heart rate went up?”

A ridiculous question, but instead of simply riding away he called over his press officer to translate. I repeated the story and it was relayed to Rolland in French.

His facial expressions went this way and that, trying to get to grips with what was being asked, before finally, he shook his head.

“No, he doesn’t, sorry,” the press officer said.

Strike one. But still, there was another man who may be able to help: EF boss Jonathan Vaughters.

“Jonathan, is it true that when Pierre Rolland was riding for your team, that during a Tour de France time trial he saw a massive French flag by the side of the road and his heart rate went up?”

“No. No, sorry,” Vaughters said. “I would love it if that was true, I think that would be awesome, but no. I mean, ask him, man!?”

“I did.”

“Oh, you did … you don’t have heart rate [data] back in the car. How would I know?”

“I guess. We were just hoping.”

“It does totally sound like him, for sure.” A thread of hope.

“He’s one of those guys,” Vaughters continued. “Like … in a time trial he’s the funniest guy to watch. He’ll never be a good time-trialist because he gets distracted. He’ll be like ‘ooh, bunny rabbit!’ and then be going slower and slower. He’ll see somebody who he knows and then he’ll go brrrooaaarwww and he does one kilometre really hard and then be like ‘oh, bunny rabbit!'”

So, the story sounds like something that could be true, even if we can’t thoroughly and independently verify that it is actually true.

Is that good enough for you? It’s good enough for me.

Now, all I ask is that we hook Rolland up to a Whoop for the stage 20 time trial, carefully place humongous French flags at carefully chosen flat points around the course, and then wait and watch his heart rate go through the roof as he is filled with the pride of his nation.

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