Thomas Voeckler writes off chances as Alps beckon. If the race leader can hold off his rivals over the next six stages France will have its first home winner since 1985.
The guy is so humble!
Without Wiggins, he’s my man! Totally rooting for the guy now, but i don’t see why he can’t hold his own in the Alps after the grit he showed in the Pyranees, just because he folded under Armstrong’s might 7 years ago.
“I have not the slightest chance,” Voeckler himself said on the eve of Monday’s rest day, after being zipped into the jersey for the seventh evening in a row. “Zero per cent. But I will fight, for sure.”
Sounds a little defeatist, perhaps it doesn’t translate that way in his own mind, he’s quite a character. The 32-year-old leader of the humble Europcar team has been playing down his chances ever since a bold and sustained attack during stage nine, from Issoire to Saint-Flour, took him to the top of the general classification. He was bound to lose the leadership in the Pyrenees, he claimed, because he was not a climber.
Instead he defended the jersey with style, countering attacks from the Schleck brothers, Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans on the epic climbs to Luz-Ardiden and the Plateau de Beille.
The memory of losing the maillot jaune to Armstrong in the Alps all those years ago, according to David Millar, the Garmin-Cervélo rider, may be the reason people are underrating his chances right now.
“There are preconceptions because he’s already lost the yellow jersey in the mountains,” Millar said on Monday. “But if it was any other rider who had done what he has just done in those two stages, defending the yellow jersey with strength in the highest mountains, you would say, ‘This guy can win the Tour’.
“It’s one of those classic sporting moments where we are basing an assessment of his future performance on his past results, when actually he seems to be doing something that merits more respect.
“Don’t forget he was attacking in the first week. He wasn’t saving energy. The day he took the yellow jersey he was attacking off the front and the other big guys were just sitting in. He is not going to weaken now. If you are defending like that on stage 14 and 15, it means you are going to keep it up until the end. Now it is up to everyone else to shake him.”
I hadn’t realised until reading some of the news today that Voeckler’s Europcar team, known until last year as Bbox Bouygues Telecom, have possibly the smallest budget of any of this year’s Tour outfits. After relegation from the ProTour series they now compete in Europe’s second division events, and owe their presence in the Tour de France to a wild-card system that favours home-owned teams.
It is no accident, Millar says, that the top riders are grouped together going into the last week of the Tour, or that the speed of the leading riders is going down from the days of the “two-speed Tours”. Voeckler and his closest rivals, for instance, took almost three and a half minutes longer to climb to the Plateau de Beille on Saturday than Marco Pantani took 13 years ago.
“There is no doubt that it’s cleaner,” Millar said. “The highest guys are at a similar level because there are no big secrets out there. Once you have the 20 best in the world all eating the same thing, drinking the same thing and doing the same recovery, they are going to perform at a similar level and it is going to become very tactical. And tactically, Voeckler is very clever.
“A lot can happen in the Alps, but I would put him on the podium at the moment, for sure. He is an incredible bike rider and I hope this Tour de France will give him the respect that he does deserve.”
Can’t wait for the Alps!