Blazin' Saddles

Pierrot’s pointless polka dot party is back on

Blazin' Saddles

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No one has worn the polka dot jersey with quite as much pride, passion and propriety as Pierre Rolland in this 100th edition of the Tour de France - and so it's entirely fitting that the Frenchman will be sporting the spots for the last mountain stage of the race.

For 12 of the past 19 days cycling fans around the world have winced, squinted and groaned in unison at the sight of Rolland opting not only for the polka dot jersey, but matching spotted shorts, gloves, socks, helmet and even bike.

There was a brief respite when Biel Kadri took the spots off his shoulder for one day last week; Mikel Nieve, too, gracefully stood in for a couple of days while another Frenchman, Christophe Riblon, drew the short straw after his Alpe d'Huez heroics on Thursday.

But none of these polka dot pretenders looked right in the famous red-and-white garment - and none of them certainly embraced the maillot à pois as an extension of their self quite as convincingly as Rolland. Rolland is arguably the first rider in the history of the Tour for whom the polka dot jersey was more than a mere item of clothing; for him it has become a concept, an identity, a saving grace.

Of course, this is all very well, but Rolland is actually only back wearing the jersey by default: despite crossing three summits on Friday in pole position, the endearingly goofy 26-year-old could not overtake Chris Froome at the top of the KOM standings, coming to rest a single point shy of the race leader's tally.

His stage 19 ride was fairly epic, attacking from the main break on the Col du Madeleine before catching and passing Ryder 'The Honey Bear' Hesjedal and taking maximum points on the way.

Then the heavens opened and metaphorically washed the virtual polka dots off Rolland's back. Pierrot was hunted down by a man whose legs were far fresher, a man who hadn't been torn between picking up clothing coupons and keeping his power dry for the stage finale.

Prior to that, Rolland had ridden alone for much of the stage, but he had the fervent French fans to keep him company on the side of the road. In regulation green Europcar kit and without his ubiquitous full polka dot onesie outfit, he may not have been recognised by many people at first.

But at one point it looked as if Rolland had pulled off a real coup and was on course to make it a third stage win in as many Tours.

The victory did not come, but the sweetener was the combativity prize plus the latest loaning of Chris Froome's polka dot jersey for a day. Although the gap is just one point - it may be too much for Rolland to overturn.

As Pierrot explained himself: "On Saturday, the race favourites will come out to play to fight for podium positions and there are 50 points available at the summit in Semnoz. Suffice to say, I may not be able to keep up with them.

"That means I'll have to get into an early break but tonight, I can't bear thinking about that. I need a massage and I'm finding walking a real struggle."

The typical scenario on Saturday - given how his and Europcar's Tour have gone - is for Rolland to bust a gut in the break to take maximum points over the first five climbs and move into the outright lead, but then to blow up on the final climb to allow Froome or Nairo Quintana to take the win and leap-frog him at the top of the standings.

Should Rolland stay in second position, that would be the cruellest twist: that way Rolland will once again wear the polka dot jersey by default on Sunday's showpiece stage to Paris in the knowledge that come the arrival, he'll have to hand over the goods.

But before doing so, Rolland would appear in all those final-stage photos of the four different jersey wearers riding ahead of the peloton and holding up plastic flutes of champagne.

Imagine the ignominy of it all: it would be a bit like standing in for a work colleague's wedding photos just to make up the numbers. And then not being invited to the reception.

He'd be like team-mate Thomas Voeckler - who last year did win the polka dot jersey and parade it around Paris - but just not as good.

But one positive would come from such a scenario: Rolland would surely opt to wear just the regular jersey and not the full spotted kit for the race's final day.

For having to hand over his shorts, socks, helmet, gloves and bike to Froome or Quintana on the Champs Elysees would be an even bigger kick in the teeth than having to keep them warm in the first place. What's more, if rumours are to be believed, Pierre has red spots on a more intimate item of clothing too...

HOT: Rui Costa's latest win put him up in the multiple-stage club alongside Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel and Chris Froome. As soon as he broke clear of the other chasing riders, there really didn't look like there'd any other winner.

NOT: Ryder Hesjedal's bulky white sun glasses are right up there with Rolland's polka dot onesie as the great sartorial monstrosities of the Tour - although the Canadian was given some stiff competition by Jose Serpa and Jerome Cousin, who both brought their moustaches along to the break.

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STAGE 20: ANNECY - ANNECY-SEMNOZ, 125KM

The penultimate stage of the 100th edition of the Tour de France was designed with the old adage 'size doesn't matter' in mind. The short nature of the stage should mean fireworks from the beginning - especially seeing that four riders separated by just 47 seconds are battling out for the remaining two places on the podium.

What's more, none of Contador, Quintana, Kreuziger or Rodriguez have won a stage. That's motivation enough - rather than any lingering hopes at cracking the yellow jersey. Indeed, besides a race-ending crash, the only way Froome can lose the yellow jersey now is for him to pick up 25 energy gels from the Sky team car in separate visits on the last climb. In short: it's not likely.

But throw in the undecided battle for the polka dot jersey, plus the last realistic chance for anyone who is not Mark Cavendish or Marcel Kittel to win a stage on the race, and you're going to get a fast and furious three-and-a-half hours of yo-yoing drama. Although all depends on the legs of the protagonists. After all, while size doesn't matter, it's what you do with it that counts - and if no one is up for a scrap, then it could be an anticlimax.

PLAT DU JOUR: How about some 'atriaux' - a type of meat ball made with minced pork, liver, parsley and spices, cooked in a white wine sauce. Follow this with some local Tome des Bauges - a creamy but solid cheese made with unpasteurised milk and a grey rind containing 'cat hair', or ammonia. Skip pudding and have some 'grolle' - a kind of coffee alcohol.

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