French national road race champion Thomas Voeckler, who rode away to claim a hugely popular victory in Stage15 of the Tour de France in Bagnères de Luchon as the drama of Andy Schleck’s slipped chain unfolded behind him, has revealed that he almost came close to abandoning the race last week.
Last year, the serial attacker won his first Tour de France stage in Perpignan after getting into a breakaway inside the first kilometre and holding on win by just seven seconds as the peloton, led by Mark Cavendish who was looking for his third stage win in a row, bore down upon him.
Today’s stage, which included the Hors-Categorie Port de Balès, had an entirely different profile to the one that the Bbox Bouygues Telecom rider claimed victory on last year, and both wins not only reflect Voeckler’s versatility, but also are just reward for the 32-year-old’s determination to get into breaks, including one in Stage 7 of this year’s race in the Jura Mountains.
Referring to that escape, Voeckler told the Tour de France website this evening, “I knew I was better than the fourth place in the stage to Station des Rousses,” adding that he came close to abandoning the race as it headed out of the Alps four days later.
“On this Tour I’ve really had difficult times,” he conceded. “The day of the stage to Gap, had it been a day in high mountains, I might be home at this hour. But I’m getting experience and after 12 Grand Tours, I know very well that we can have terrible days, and then find ourselves in great shape.”
Today, for Voeckler, was one of the latter as he got into a ten-man break halfway through the stage and attacked his fellow escapees on the way up the day’s final climb, which he crested alone, and then narrowly avoiding riding straight into the side of a barn during a daredevil descent to the finish.
This afternoon’s victory came just three weeks after Voeckler, born in Alsace but raised on the Indian Ocean island of Réunion, had won back the French national road race title he last held in 2004, the red white and blue jersey giving an added dimension to his victory today.
“I am very proud of what I have done today,” Voeckler said. “At an emotional level, what happened at the championships of France, when I came home first, was already enormous. But then to win with the tricouleur on the shoulders a stage of the Tour de France is extraordinary.”
He concluded: “It is true that I have a special way to ride, but I do not attack for the sake of attacking. It’s an attack for the victory. And when you’re not the strongest in the world, you must try many times for it to work."
While the cycling world’s attention was focused on Voeckler and his fellow escapees as well as the battle for the GC, at the other end of the race, there was a reminder of just how unforgiving the Tour de France can be when it comes to sweeping up – literally – those riders who, for whatever reason, are finding the going particularly tough.
The rider involved was BMC Racing’s Mauro Santambrogio, who had started the stage despite having been ill overnight and who found the pace of today’s stage just too much too handle, as his team leader Cadel Evans explained on his website.
Like Evans' predecessor as world champion Alessandro Ballan, Santambrogio, who is 25, moved to BMC Racing from Lampre last year, and both were suspended by their team from racing earlier this year while BMC satisfied itself that they were not implicated in an ongoing investigation into doping in Italy.
Regarding today's stage, after pointing out that the fact it took almost 90km for a break to finally stick meant that the peloton had been forced to ride along at a brisk pace for the first half of the stage, the Evans said it was “a long day for Santambrogio, my roommate until his stomach illness last night.”
Highlighting Santambrogio’s determination to keep on riding whatever it took, Evans continued: “He was dropped on the first hill after 19km, rode back to the peloton before getting dropped again on the first GPM (mountain points climb) to chase solo to the feed zone (90km). Considering the 170 strong bunch had an average speed of over 47km/h, and his body had stopped assimilating calories 12 or so hours previously.”
Alas, the Italian’s efforts were in vain, with Evans adding: “He gave his all to be stopped by the race officials 27 minutes behind. 'Santa', you gave your best - we don't ask anymore from you than that.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.