Voeckler and Rolland lead Europcar team
Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland will lead Team Europcar's nine-man squad for the forthcoming Tour de France, which gets underway on Saturday with a prologue in the Belgian city of Liege.
Despite initial concerns about Voeckler's fitness, the 33 year old will take to the start of the Grande Boucle. The Frenchman - who famously wore the yellow jersey for 10 stages during last year's Tour - had been sidelined with a knee injury for eight days, but was back in the saddle for training on Monday.
Fourth in last year's race, the darling of the French public will certainly have strong ambitions in the 2012 Tour after a mixed start to the season.
Pierre Rolland, who finished 10th last year and picked up the white jersey as best young rider, will also be keen to build on his exceptional form in 2011. Rolland, 26 in October and so ineligible for the maillot blanc, has built his season around the Tour de France and is aware that he will now be a marked man in the peloton after a breakthrough race 12 months ago that included a memorable victory atop Alpe d'Huez in stage 19.
Accompanying leaders Voeckler and Rolland will be a diverse line-up with many cards to play over the three weeks in France.
Cyril Gautier, who impressed in fits and bursts last year (in particular during stage eight when he was part of a large breakaway), will target a maiden Grand Tour stage win. The 24 year old certainly has the talent to make a splash this summer – and targeting the white jersey is not out of the question.
Christophe Kern is not in the same form as he showed at key moments last year, but a promising return in the Criterium du Dauphine was enough to secure the former national time trial champion a place in Jean-Rene Bernaudeau's squad.
Vincent Jerome, who showed last year just how important he was to the team with some selfless performances in support of the maillot jaune, retains his place in the squad. The 27 year old will hope to have an incident-free start to the race following last year's unfortunate series of crashes in the opening stages.
New signing Davide Malacarne is making his Tour debut and will look to impress on the climbs or in breaks over rolling terrain. The 24-year-old all-rounder is also strong in the sprint, much like the remaining three riders on the roster: Japan's Yukiya Arashiro and French pair Giovanni Bernaudeau and Yohann Gene.
There is no place in the squad for the 2010 polka dot jersey winner Anthony Charteau, who supported Voeckler with much gusto in the mountains last year. Youngster Damien Gaudin did not make the final cut and so will have to wait at least another year before making his debut in the Tour. Sprinter Sebastian Chavanel also misses out.
Alexandre Pichot and David Veilleux have been named on the reserve list in the case of an injury occurring to one of the selected nine riders this week.
Team Europcar for the Tour: Thomas VOECKLER, Pierre ROLLAND, Christophe KERN, Cyril GAUTIER, Yukiya ARASHIRO, Giovanni BERNAUDEAU, Yohann GENE, Vincent JEROME, Davide MALACARNE