One of the four new riders on the Toyota-United Pro Cycling is the 6-Time Canadian National Road Champion Dominique Rollin who won nine races as a first-year professional in 2007 and finished third overall at the inaugural Tour of Missouri. The 25-year old spent many of his formative years racing and living in France for amateur teams, including the well known V.C. Roubaix Lille Metropole.
I sat down with Dominique Rollin over a Monday morning coffee on his first day at the Toyota-United training camp in Solvang, California. He shared his background, his goals for the year, and our conversation was punctuated by laughs and chuckles.
Toyota-United contacted Rollin when his 2007 squad, the Kodak Gallery Pro Cycling Team announced that it was stopping operations. “I really didn’t really have any negotiations with them. The day after my team announced that it was folding, I received a call from Toyota. Just like that.”
Rollin is part of the Toyota-United squad for the Amgen Tour of California and will be looking to help out the team and to make his mark this season.
About his background
In his hometown of Boucherville, Quebec, at the tender age of ten, Rollin entertained himself by following on his mountain bike his older brother, who raced bikes, on his training rides.
“I think this is my fifteenth season this year… yeah, I’ve spent more than half my life on a bike. My parents kept me back, but the year after, at 11 years old, I started racing and since then it’s a passion.”
The amateur circuit in the province of Quebec allowed him many opportunities to challenge himself and to develop as a racer. “There was always at a minimum, about thirty riders lining up for each race for each category. Even sometimes we were fifty-ish. It’s good when you are 10 or 11 years old, about forty guys to race against and with.”
Rollin continued to race in Quebec and Canada, and his results impressed Jacques Landry, the then coach of the National Team, and starting in 1999, he raced in Europe with the National Team.
In 2003 and 2004, Rollin joined French amateur teams and even though he made a name for himself, he couldn’t find a team for the 2005 season. “I came back home for a bit of rest, relaxation, of rethinking of my career,” said a laughing Rollin. “these things happen. It’s tough going to Europe, it’s known to be tough mentally, especially as an amateur because there isn’t really a good team organizational structure, you are just left on your own where only results matter.”
After returning to race in Quebec, Rollin send an email to V.C. Roubaix Lille Metropole amateur team in September 2005, with almost no expectations. He was going to stay in Quebec and race just for fun, when in November, DS Cyrille Guimard contacted him. “He said ‘we have a spot that just opened, are you interested in joining us?’ ‘Yes’, when Cyrille Guimard calls you, you say yes. I jumped on the opportunity, it was a good experience.”
Unfortunately, Rollin found that the team while “looking organized from the outside, was a mess from the inside,” or as Rollin said “Pourquoi faire simple quand on peut faire compliquer.”
Living and Racing in France
Rollin learned tremendously from racing and living in Europe especially from his first Directeur Sportif, Guy Gallopin, brother to Astana’s Allain Gallopin. From him, he not early learned how to race correctly, but all the work off the bike essential to being a profesional racer, such as auto-massage techniques, stretching refinements. Gallopin also made him work on his pedaling technique, “before I was just pushing, I pointed my foot, I think I spent 3 months working my pedaling technique, I would race and even the juniors would beat me” laughed Rollin. His pedaling improved, and “I saw a big difference, I was really comfortable in a race when I had to give it my all.”
Obviously, Rollin had to go through an adjustment phase when he went to race in Europe. “I was going to Europe since ’99 with the National Team so it is a transition to go from a 60-man field to a 200-man strong peloton racing on roads four times narrower.”
“It was an adaptation, but it was there that I really learned how to race, it was there that I learned to read a race correctly, how to position myself.”
He remembers one race in particular that helped him understand how to race in the wind, and how to use echelons. “The Olympia Tour in Holland where I took a wicked beating but after that I knew how to ride in the wind.” chuckled Rollin, “After that, there were no problems.”
Living in France was not easy even if he spoke the language. For the three years that he lived in France, he had the bad luck to find himself living in apartments that were removed from everything. In his second year, his apartment was surrounded by schools which were empty during the summer. “There is no one, you find yourself all alone, with no mode of transportation, no car, without anything, so I had no one to see. After a while, you really need to talk to someone that doesn’t know anything about cycling to get your mind of cycling.”
A lot of riders have difficulty adjusting to moving to another country and often can’t adapt. “You leave the country but when you get there the team wants you to only think of cycling, cycling, cycling but you need time to think of other things, to see other things… that is what is so tough, missing that little moment of rest makes you crack.”
For Rollin, 2004 was a difficult year where he questioned his cycling career, so much so that he put his “World Championship at risk which is the reason I was second to last at the time trial.” He had been reaching out to the Canadian Cycling Association (CCA) for two months asking for assistance to no avail “because the man in charge was a Frenchman in France and he couldn’t understand what we were going through.”
“There was a cultural barrier even though we spoke the same language. We need to move, to see other things, you can’t really stay in front of TF1 and France 2 all the time”, summarized a laughing Rollin.
In 2006, V.C. Roubaix Lille Metropole took a professional license while they were in negotiations with Rollin without informing him of this change of licensing. When Rollin heard the news through the media, he stopped the negotiations”, due to “a lack of respect.”
Stay tuned for part two, when Rollin recaps his 2007 season and we go over his goals for the 2008 year with the Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team.
Photo c. Kathleen Poulos and Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team