Tour de France11/07/2012 - 18:28 - Updated 11/07/2012 - 19:34
Born again Voeckler takes the win
Thomas Voeckler won stage 10 of the Tour de France in the Jura mountains after a typically agressive ride which also saw him take the polka dot jersey. Pierre Rolland managed to steal back 32 seconds on his GC rivals on a perfect day for Team Europcar.
However well you think you know Thomas Voeckler, he always manages to both surprise and astound. From nowhere, Voeckler can produce something of such exquisite beauty that is leaves you scratching your head and wondering just what the eternal secret of his success is. Last year, the public saw Voeckler's smiling face for 10 successive days on the podium as he received the yellow jersey as unlikely race leader. Twice before that Voeckler had beamed down upon us after stage wins on the Tour. Now the 33-year-old has a third stage - and with it the king of the mountains jersey.
In the opening phase of the 99th edition of the Tour, Voeckler was riding through the pain barrier, his knee constantly sore and his morale rock-bottom. After the yellow jersey highs of 2011, Voeckler was experiencing a rotten race. But he promised to press on. He promised he would give it his all until the very end, hoping for better days to come.
On Wednesday, Voeckler seized the first opportunity presented to him. The mountainous 195.5km Stage 10 was destined to be won by a strong and brave rider. A large break formed when the average speed was a staggering 49 km/h over the opening flat roads through the valleys of the Jura. Voeckler took the right ticket along with Japanese team-mate Yukiya Arashiro, who proved a faithful lieutenant.
Then the Grand Colombier made the selection: a 25-man group was whittled down to four men after a string of attacks by both Voeckler and the Italian Michele Scarponi (Lampre). The most aggressive of the leading quartet up the precipitous 7.1 percent slopes of the 17km climb, Voeckler was a constant attacking force on the front as his fellow escapees struggled to keep in touch.
Voeckler jumped out of the saddle near the summit to take the 25 points that would secure the Frenchman the polka dot jersey for the third time in his career. Scarponi crossed the summit in second place ahead of Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) and Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma Quick Step), with German veteran Jens Voigt (RadioShack) closely following. The peloton meanwhile rode along three and a half minutes in arrears.
A short and sharp descent was followed by the final climb of the day, the Cat.3 Col de Richemond, which Voeckler crossed once again in pole position ahead of the final descent to the finish in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine. Voigt caught the leading quartet after the 10km downhill before the Belgian Devenyns attacked inside the final 5km. Voigt countered the attack, but Voeckler bade his time, waiting for the right moment before pouncing.
He dropped Sanchez and Scarponi inside the final 2km before passing Voigt with ease and then leaving Devenyns for dead. A final slightly uphill drag made for a nervous finish as Scarponi attempted one final throw of the dice - but Voeckler held on to beat the Italian by three seconds and Voigt by seven.
"What Thomas did today was impressive. The initial goal was not to miss the break. But there ware some strong figures in the break who looked to form an alliance against Thomas. But he was cunning and he was the strongest. His win was entirely deserved and he's turned things around," said directeur sportif Dominique Arnould.
The polka dot jersey and the award for the most aggressive rider added the icing to the cake.
"I'm 33, it's my tenth Tour and I fully appreciate what's happening to me today," said an ecstatic Voeckler after his third career stage win on the Tour.
"I went for the climbing jersey but I always wanted to win this stage. Everybody sat on my back throughout the climbs and descents but when it was the right time to go, I went. What an amazing rush it was when I crossed the line. My knees hurt. Everything hurts,” he added, referring to the tendonitis that hampered his first week of racing.
Voeckler also promised his fans that he would not sit back on his laurels and bask in the glory of his stage win. "Today I know that I can finish my Tour without regrets but that doesn't mean that I'll just stay in the peloton for the rest of the race," he said.
Pierre Rolland followed the example of his team captain with a good day in the saddle. During the final climb of the day, Rolland broke clear from the yellow jersey group alongside the Belgian Jurgen van den Broeck. The duo finished in a small group of riders 2'44" down on Voeckler and 32 seconds ahead of the main pack.
Rolland knows he has to take back as many seconds as he can each day if he wants to match last year's top ten finish. The 25-year-old is now 9'28" down in 20th place on the GC. "Pierre knows he is not far away from the top ten and so he has a real fight on his hands. His legs are good," said Arnould.
Thursday sees the race enter the Alps with a short but brutal 148km stage that features the fabled Madeleine and Croix de Fer climbs before the summit finish at La Toussuire. The Alps should open a new chapter for Team Europcar, now on cloud nine after Voeckler's emphatic win.