For Pierre Rolland, this could be the end of the road, with the two-time Tour de France stage winner considering retirement after the collapse of the B&B Hotels-KTM team. But the Frenchman holds no grudges and has spoken out in sympathy for embattled team boss Jérôme Pineau.
Rolland is one of 20 riders on the second-division French team who had a contract for 2023 but have now been left in the lurch with three weeks to go until the start of the new season.
He had already begun to contemplate the end of his career this season, eventually signing a one-year extension with B&B Hotels, a deal that is no longer valid.
He has already been linked with a return to his former team, TotalEnergies, but revealed on Thursday that he could hang up his wheels altogether.
“I’ve had some contacts, and I maybe have the possibility to continue. But I also have the possibility to stop,” Rolland told the OuestFrance newspaper, adding that “a career change” is something he’s already started planning.
“Honestly, it is still too early to say what I’m going to do. I’m still waiting.”
Rolland struck an optimistic tone that the team might continue as a third-tier Continental-level outfit in 2023, even if that appears remote. On Wednesday, the total collapse of the team – which was meant to have expanded with the signing of Mark Cavendish and the creation of women’s and development squads – was widely reported.
Even if there were the budget to run a Continental team – and that’s unlikely without access to major races – then they would still struggle to receive a licence from the French federation at this stage.
“I never said it was all over,” Pineau told OuestFrance, before backtracking: “Yes, as it stands, we’re stopping… If there’s a miracle, I will call people back.”
Rolland, for his part, confirmed that even if that ‘miracle’ came to pass, he would be off, either to a bigger team or into retirement.
“I’ll continue to support the project, even if personally I won’t be signing up for it,” he said. “Continental level, as I see it, is about young riders. For the end of my career, it’s not what I want.”
‘I think they were conned’
Rolland backed Pineau in his last dying hope of saving the team he created in 2019, and defended the Frenchman against the criticism that has come his way in recent days.
Pineau announced plans for major investment in the summer, notably from the city of Paris and other rumoured corporate backers, but no money materialised, and last-gasp meetings alongside his brother, Sebastien, have proved fruitless.
“For me, it’s more nuanced. I’m very disappointed and sad, but I’m aware that Jérôme and B&B Hotels didn’t want this to happen,” he said.
“There was a problem at a certain moment, and Jérôme will explain in due course, but I think they were conned. It’s possible that they were sold a dream. But there we go, no one wanted this.
“Jérôme believed in me in 2019, I had a contract with him for four years, I’m not going to bite the hand that fed me. That doesn’t stop me being said, of course, or asking questions, but Jérôme is a young manager, the economic landscape is very complicated, and this type of misfortune has happened to other managers in the past. Mistakes can happen.”
Rolland finished by reiterating his belief that the team could carry on in the third-division in 2023 and then bounce back up in 2024.
“Maybe there’s anger, but I prefer to still believe that it’s not over.”