Thomas Voeckler, the man who carries the hopes of the French nation on his shoulders as he continues to lead the Tour de France inside the final week, has echoed another person beloved of the nation, the great singer Edith Piaf, insisting that he has “no regrets” after losing time to a trio of key rivals on Stage 16 of the race in Gap today.
The stage was won by Garmin-Cervelo’s Thor Hushovd, whose team mate Ryder Hesjedal, who finished third, helped set up the world champion up to outsprint Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen. The trio had been in a 10-man break that got away with just 60 kilometres of today’s race left.
In truth, the day could have been a lot worse for Voeckler, who ended up losing 21 seconds to defending champion Alberto Contador of Saxo Bank-SunGard and Euskaltel Euskadi’s Samuel Sanchez, and 24 to Cadel Evans, who leapfrogs Frank Schleck to second overall.
Evans and Sanchez had proved the only riders capable of responding when Contador attacked for the second time on the day’s only big climb, the Category 2 Col de Manse, crested 11.5 kilometres from the finish.
At first it looked as though Voeckler was in serious trouble, but he recovered well to join up with a number of other riders who had been unable to react to Contador’s attacks, including Leopard-Trek’s Frank and Andy Schleck.
Indeed, by the end of the stage, the Europcar rider would have gained 48 seconds on the younger Schleck sibling, clearly experiencing misgivings about a tricky descent into Gap in the rain - afterwards, he would critcise organisers over the day's parcours - and also losing time when he unclipped near the top of the descent when a rider went down in front of him.
“We didn’t expect the attacks from Alberto but in the Tour, especially when the last stages are being contested, you have to be very careful,” reflected Voeckler afterwards.
“That’s the sport – sometimes you expect things to happen and they don’t, sometimes you think that nothing is going to happen and there are many gaps between the various riders.
“Today, the beginning of the stage was very fast and that combined with the final, made it interesting,” he continued. “The legs weren’t so bad today but I lost a lot of time on three favorites so that means that I’ve possibly reached my limit. We’ll see what happens from here.
“It’s not a good day for me but that’s the way it is for me,” he continued. “I have no regrets. I tried to follow them when they attacked and I couldn’t. That’s all there is. It’s like that. I’ve got no regrets.”
As the race heads into the mountains for three big Alpine stages, Voeckler has a 1 minute 45 second lead at the top of the GC over Evans, with Frank Schleck a further 4 seconds behind but. There’s then a gap of more than a minute to Andy Schleck, with Sanchez and Contador making up time on the Leopard Trek rider today.
Contador’s attack on a stage when it seemed that the GC contenders would simply mark each other was not the only surprise today – Thor Hushovd, who the man who preceded Voeckler in yellow, had seemed to have hoisted the ‘job done’ flag up when winning in Lourdes on Friday.
This afternoon, however, the Norwegian was back for a second helping on a stage that once again had a fast descent to the finish. It’s the 10th Tour de France stage win of the Garmin-Cervelo rider’s career.
“At the start of the last climb, Ryder Hesjedal was riding for me at the bottom just to keep a steady pace and I felt that he was going very strongly so I told him to just go,” revealed the world champion afterwards.
“He went alone and it was looking good for him for a while and then, at some point, Edvald Boasson Hagen attacked when I was on his wheel and, in the end, he chase Ryder down. I was sitting there to control him and I feel a little sorry for Edvald... he did not have an easy job in the end with two Garmin-Cervélo guys in the front.
“This year everything seems to be working one hundred per cent for me at the Tour,” continued Hushovd. “I chose my good days, where I can win, and today I really got the reward again so you could not believe how pleased and happy I am.
“It’s always difficult to get in the good breakaway,” he added, “but I felt strong and then, when it came to the sprint, I think I did a perfect sprint thanks to the good help I got from Hesjedal. I timed it well today and I’m not a bad sprinter... but to beat Edvald Boasson Hagen in a sprint like this is not easy,” Hushovd concluded.
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.