Pierre Rolland danced with Alberto Contador and Samuel Sanchez on the high slopes of the famed Alpe d'Huez. Then, in a flash, he disappeared up the mountain and the three-time defending champion Contador could not hold his wheel.
Rolland, the Frenchman from Team Europcar, and the indomitable lieutenant for Thomas Voeckler's yellow jersey reign, won Stage 19 and showed why he may be the future of Team Europcar next year, not Thomas Voeckler.
Rolland, at 24 years old, now holds the white jersey for the best young rider after flying up the Alpe d'Huez and getting the stage victory. He has a 57 second lead over Vacansoleil's Thomas De Gendt, and will try to hold that lead through the time trial on Stage 20.
Rolland also sits in 10th place in the General Classification, 8:57 behind Leopard-Trek's Andy Schleck, and over six minute behind his teammate Voeckler in fourth place.
Voeckler, the Europcar leader who held the jersey since a Stage 9 breakaway, ceded the jersey to Andy Schleck today when Voeckler cracked on lower slopes of the Alpe d'Huez.
Voeckler had already made gutsy efforts through the Pyrenees and Alps, and even a final chase on an early Contador breakaway, before finally giving way today.
The inspiring effort led many to believe that Voeckler, who is ordinarily known as a breakaway specialist, may try for an overall Tour victory next year.
However, Europcar may instead look to the performance of the younger Rolland, who is 8 years younger than Voeckler at 32 years of age.
Rolland has kept up with the best Tour de France riders including Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans, and Alberto Contador through all the high mountains stages.
In fact, it was Rolland who help pace Voeckler back on the climb to Luz Ardiden when Voeckler battled to keep his yellow jersey. Rolland was right there with Voeckler and the other contenders on the Plateau to Beille and Galibier.
Indeed, when Rolland was allowed to ride for himself, he proved his great climbing form by beating Contador and Sanchez up the Alpe d'Huez.
After today's win, Rolland's cycling future looks very bright and he may actually be the best hope for Europcar next year, not Voeckler.
In the end, both riders have made all of France proud on the grandest stage of the Tour de France, and France will be rooting for both to put on an even better showing next year, perhaps to win it all.
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