Quite a year for Canadian Dominique Rollin. On his first year with the Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team and his second year racing on the North American circuit, he caught everyone's attention after the fourth stage at the Tour of California, the 135-mile (217 km) slog from Monterey to San Luis Obispo. In horrendous weather conditions, Rollin pulled away from his breakaway companions with 12 miles (20 kms) to go and held off some of the best riders in the world, including a chasing George Hincapie (Columbia) to take the stage win after nearly seven and a half hours in the saddle. He also went on to win the Sprint Competition.

Throughout the year, the 6 foot 2 inches, 182-pound Rollin worked hard for his team to bring in victories and Rollin himself finished thirteen times on the top step of the podium in 2008 (so far) which included a stage win at the Cascade Cycling Classic and the CSC Invitational.

I caught up with a relaxed Rollin at the start of the Tour of Missouri where after joking about wishing for windy and horrible weather conditions for the upcoming race, Rollin who excels and loves racing in bad weather, looked back at his year.

Rollin was also looking forwards to a final racing push starting with the Tour of Missouri, the World Championships and finishing up with the Jayco Herald Sun Tour in Australia.

"It's the second year that I do the Sun Tour, it's a good experience, I like it. This year, I'm taking advantage that half my team is Australian to stay a it in the warmth before returning to the cold weather in Quebec. It's a way to extend the season, to take a rest a little later, this way I don't really have a morale break or a loss of motivation."

Team for 2009. His Toyota-United team is ceasing its existence after three years as its primary sponsor decided not to continue after the end of the year. At the time of the interview, Rollin said he had a few offers and declined to talk more about them.

"It's a strange year. I only hope not to gain the reputation of shutting down teams, two in two." smiled Rollin whose previous team Kodak Gallery/Sierra Nevada folded at the end of 2007. "Joking aside, it was disappointing to have a team like Toyota-United leave."

During Interbike, I learned that Rollin is joining the new Cervélo TestTeam for the upcoming season.

Racing in Europe. Rollin spent years racing on French amateur teams learning the craft and expressed his interest in returning to Europe . "I want to try Europe, I want to see something different, to have a different calendar, not to go from the hardest race in America to crits."

While there are more and more good races in the American circuit that he enjoyed, Rollin has issues with the current racing calendar. "We did the Tour of California and then had one month without a race, it's a bit difficult physically and mentally to keep the focus. You finish the stage race with good form and then you have nothing behind it to continue so you fall back to zero, you have to rebuild everything for the next race which is Georgia. That was a bit my year, a good race to nothing to come back and prepare another one, it was mostly training more than racing. I think that there were riders on my team who did 10 or 15 races. There are 3 races that are scheduled on the same weekend, you don't know which one to do but there is nothing the next weekend."

"It is a shame to see the federation not sit down with the race organizers to create a decent calendar." Rollin went on to give as example the conflict between three races, Univest Grand Prix which was help the Saturday prior to Tour of Missouri start on Monday, and the new San Francisco Twilight Criterium held at the same time at the Tour of Missouri. "That's what you find, it's been like this for a few years. Nature Valley [Grand Prix] and Tour de Beauce are at war, the American circuit will choose Nature Valley because it's an NRC race. This year the races with the biggest purses were on the same weekend, Elk Grove and Charlotte and Elk Grove was disappointed because there were only 50 of us at the start line but it was a professional race only and there was another NRC race at the same time somewhere else."

Changes. Rollin saw a definite change in the peloton after his epic ride at the Tour of California. "It changed the way everyone races. It is more difficult to be in a break." he chuckled.

"I attack and they follow. It's different. Last year, I could surprise a bit because I wasn't known, this year I'm in a team that everyone expects to deliver the merchandise and then with the results I had, I am watched, it's unfortunate that in some races that we saw the peloton race against us, like Elk Grove where everyone was racing against us, it's a bit difficult to control the race with five riders but it was a good year, and it's not over."

Trust in his teammates and team support also brought a change to his approach to racing. "Last year, it was a big question mark, you'd show up at a race without knowing who was there to race and who was there to just represent the jersey. That was good this year, you'd show up at a race, there would be a game plan and then we would follow the plan. Last year, once or twice, I would leadout a teammate and I would finish ahead of him... 'you've got to sprint'."

He also praised the professionalism of the team which he found was "exceptional". "There were no questions asked, [team owner] Sean Tucker brought all the resources to make us the most comfortable possible , the team bus is a prime example, we have a doctor here for the whole week to make sure we are healthy, it helped tremendously in California with the weather."

Looking back at the year. Right after the training camp in January, Rollin and his teammates raced in the Vuelta Ciclista Classica de la Croc, winning 4 stages overall, in preparation for the upcoming season and the Tour of California.

"We went for 6 days to Mexico then the Tour of California. It paid off, it went well, I think we won 5 stages over there, something like that. It was foremost a preparation, to rack up miles, to learn to work together, I had never raced with the guys and I didn't want to arrive at the Tour of California without ever having raced with the guys." The race gave "a certain cohesion" to the team to start off the season well.

After California, his next race was the Redlands Cycling Classic in April were Rollin finished fifth and worked for his teammate Chris Baldwin who finished second overall. A few weeks later, at the Tour de Georgia, Rollin was hit by allergies but "still did my job, we got a stage win, almost two."

Toyota-United's Dominique Rollin working for teammate Ivan Dominguez

The days prior to Philly Week were quite successful for Rollin where he finished on the podium of three races. "I had done my training for Philly and it was a relaxed week to keep the legs turning, do a few crits to get some speed in the legs, some intervals so I did Kelly Cup where I finished third, [Tour of] Somerville where I was brought down [Rollin crashed with 2 laps top go], Ricola [Twilight Grand Prix] that I won and CSC [Invitational] where I was second. A good little week." laughed Rollin. "But they were two-, three-hour races, that you don't have to dig in too deep into the reserves, it was good to prepare for Philly. Unfortunately, it didn't work at Philly and I finished eighth."

And then it was time for a break, as he was getting weary in the mid-June time frame.

"There's always a time that is a little more difficult, unfortunately mine is in July" laughed Rollin. "In July, August, there are a little bit less races, it's more relaxed, criteriums, mentally it's a bit harder to keep the focus with races that only last one and half hour, two hours. You're not present, your head isn't into racing, you want to take advantage of summer a little bit, that's an area I had a little bit of trouble with the North American circuit."

After not racing for a month, Rollin worked to get ready for the final races in September and October. "Not only does motivation come back but so does the form, I had a good break this summer, races that were a little more relaxed, that you can take a little bit less seriously and still be there."

"I always had fun racing in September and October, so I'm up for a little tour." said Rollin whose stated plans to "stay opportunistic" during Tour of Missouri paid off. He grabbed enough points on the first stage to take hold of the KOM jersey and never let go, defending the jersey and enjoying his podium moments.

The Olympic Games. Rollin was also hoping to be part of the team representing Canada at the Olympic Games in Beijing, China but was not selected. "I was working to go, but with a course that wasn't suited for me, it was difficult to be selected. My results in California helped to put my name on the list but there are not many races in America that can show what I can do on that type of course."

He had earmarked Tour of Georgia and the Philadelphia International Championship to help him get selectedt. In Georgia, the team was working for Ben Day for the overall general classification and Ivan Dominguez for stage wins. "I was doing my job for my team and it's difficult in a way to thing about myself and to show to the selection committee that I was there. I have my job to do first then I can think about my personal results." As for the Philly race, "its always the same thing, it's a difficult course but it finishes in a sprint, it's still a long course but it's not a 12km climb to do 6 times."

But at only 25 years of age, the next Olympic Games are still on the horizon. When asked about the next games, Rollin only said "in four years in London" and smiled.

Mission accomplished. Back in January, during our conversation at the beginning of his first training camp with his new team Rollin said that he saw himself as a domestique, as first and foremost he wanted to help the team win races and where possible carve a place for himself. "I can bring 2 or 3 horses more to help Ivan [Dominguez] get a win or I think Hilton Clarke who is also new, a good sprinter."

Looking back at the year, Rollin was happy with the results.

"I'm happy with my year. Of course, there are things that if you look back that you tell yourself 'oh merde', I should have played it differently. It was a good season, I was missing a certain consistency in my form but I did my job as a teammate that best I could in every race."

Dominique Rollin (Toyota-United) enjoying the spoils of the KOM jersey at Tour of Missouri

All photos copyright Lyne Lamoureux