Voeckler digs deep in Haut-Var
Thomas Voeckler continued his season's preparations this weekend with a solid if unspectacular ride in the Tour of Haut-Var.
The reigning champion was unable to repeat his winning performance from 2011 – and despite a strong sixth place in Saturday's opening stage, Voeckler finished two-and-a-half minutes down on overall winner Jonathan Tiernan-Locke of Endura Racing on Sunday, who won the brutal second stage in style.
Voeckler entered the two-day race in Provence with ambitions for the GC but, according to directeur sportif Dominique Arnould, in less good form than the year before owing to the shortened stages of the recent weather-hampered Tour of the Mediterranean.
Both Voeckler and fellow Tour de France hero Pierre Rolland were Team Europcar's protected riders, with Japan's Yukiya Arashiro marked down as the man for the expected bunch finish in stage one.
But a break of two men narrowly held on to contest the win on Saturday, with Voeckler rolling home in sixth place in La Croix Valmer, 11 seconds down on winner Romain Hardy of Bretagne-Schuller.
"We decided not to chase down the break because no-one was threatening to us for the GC," said Arnould. "Our goal was to make the peloton react a little in the last 30 kilometres and we succeeded."
With everything left to play on the 205km second stage to Fayence, which included three climbs ahead of a hellishly steep wall at the finish, the scene was set for a memorable showdown
But neither Voeckler nor the usually indefatigable Philippe Gilbert (BMC) could match the pace of Tiernan-Locke after the Englishman broke clear of the pack in pursuit of a leading trio with less than two kilometres to ride.
Tiernan-Locke, the winner of Tour of the Mediterranean, soon caught Frenchman Julien El Fares (Ag2R-La Mondiale) and Tour Down Under champion Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE) while France's Julian Simon (Saur-Sojasun) rode clear.
But the 27-year-old Endura Racing rider completed the best week of his career by passing Simon inside the closing 500m and holding El Fares at bay for the win. Voeckler crossed the line in a small group of riders 2:37 down in 41st place.
Arashiro and Vincent Jérôme had both been involved in an early break but were swept up with 50km remaining after the initial leading group of 16 had been whittled down to just five, including the Europcar pair.
Rolland had a dig but was swallowed up 20km remaining before pulling out of the race (the Tour de France white jersey was one of around 60 riders not to complete the demanding second stage).
Voeckler tried his best to break clear of the bunch towards the end of the stage, but did not have the legs to make any headway on the overall winner, Tiernan-Locke.
"We knew we had to isolate him [Tiernan-Locke] but like everybody else we weren't able to carry it out," said Arnould, who admitted the stage two and overall winner "was better than everyone".
"Today we rode the race that we set out to ride but we came up against a rider who was stronger than us. We're going to have to go back to the drawing board and do some extra training sessions because many of our riders are short of competitive practice. Tomorrow we'll go out for five hours," he said.