Saturday, July 2, 2011

Tour de France Rider Profile: Thomas Voeckler...

If asked for a one word description which could be applied to French rider, Thomas Voeckler, I would choose the word scrapper. A scrapper is someone who exhibits great determination, who is willing to lay it all on the line, with a twinge of unpredictability to keep things interesting. In the early 1990s there was an Italian racer whose name you may be familiar with, and who I would also characterize as scrappy, Claudio Chiappucci.

2011 Paris-Nice, Stage 4

I am going to get some ugliness out of the way here, before continuing on. I say ugliness, because I have read various comments about Voeckler and his style of racing, comments which are disparaging, and as far as I am concerned, way off the mark. There was a guy on a training ride that I used to do who could be counted on to launch an attack, or series of attacks, usually when the group was rolling along at a relaxed pace. Other riders, including myself, grumbled about him and his incessant attacking. Realistically though, the grumbling came out because I am naturally lazy, and every attack, sooner or later, required a response. Work. Of course, deep down, I really liked all those attacks. It was the heart of the competition; it was racing. Watching from the sidelines, which would you rather see, the race flying by, being controlled by one team, to set up a finish sprint the way they want it to play out? Or the same scene, but with a monkeywrench thrown into the mix? I know those sprints can be dramatic, and I love watching them unfold, but give me the rogue attack and its extra layer of drama.

Back to Monsieur Voeckler now. Thomas Voeckler, born in 1979, has been a professional since 2001, racing with the same team during this entire time - though the team has experienced several name changes - the current team name is Europcar (previously Bbox Bouygues Telecom, Bouygues Telecom, Brioches la Boulangere, and Bonjour). His first big result came in 2003, when he won the overall at the Tour of Luxembourg. The following year he won the French Road Race Championship, captured the yellow jersey in the Tour de France and defended it for stages 5-14. In 2006 Voeckler won Paris-Bourges, and overall at the Route de Sud. 2007 saw him claim the Mountains Classification at Paris-Nice, win the Grand Prix de Plouay Ouest-France, and the overall title at the Tour du Poitou Charentes et de la Vienne. Wins in the Circuit de la Sarthe and Grand Prix de Plumelec-Morbihan capped 2008. 2009 was another big year - Voeckler won Stage 5 of the Tour de France, overall at the Etoile de Besseges, Tour de Haute Var, and Trophee des Grimpeurs. In 2010 he became National Road Race Champion of France for a second time, won Stage 15 of Le Tour, and claimed the Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec.

2004 defending the Yellow Jersey against Lance

2011 has started off in grand fashion - Voeckler has won overall at the Tour du Haut Var, and Four Days of Dunkirk, the victors' crown at Cholet-Pays de Loire, and stage wins at the Tour Mediterraneen, Paris-Nice (2), and Giro del Trentino. It is quite likely we will see this string of victories continue at the Tour this year, with a stage podium finish. As my Rider Profile for this years Tour, I will give Voeckler's daily results here.

video shows Voeckler winning the 2010 TdF stage into Luchon in the Pyrenees

I have read that the tongue is kind of a Voeckler trademark,
but I only found a trio of photos


Stage 1: 14th Voeckler crossed the line 14th, in the main group, 6 seconds behind stage         winner Philip Gilbert.

Stage 2: Voeckler's Europcar team, not known as an especially powerful TTT squad unleashed an inspired performance, finishing the day's team time trial 12th, only fifty seconds behind the winning Garmin-Cervelo team. As a result Voeckler sits in 38th spot overall.

Stage 3: On a day when the Americans in the peloton were celebrating Independence Day, American Tyler Farrar, celebrated a stage victory and dedicated it to friend, late Wouter Weylandt. Voeckler meanwhile, finished in the main group (144th) with the same time as the winner. He moved one spot down on g.c., to 39th, at 0:50.

Stage 4: After racing 172.5 km between Lorient and Mur de Bretagne, with a 2 km uphill kicker at the end, Voeckler crossed the line in 65th place, 25 seconds behind stage winner, Cadel Evans. The finish moved him up to 30th on g.c. @ 1:15.

Stage 5: Voeckler was at his most daring during the day's 164.5 km stage between Carhaix and Cap Frehel. With about 33 km remaining to be raced, fellow Frenchman Jeremy Roy, attacked out of the bunch, and was immediately joined by Voeckler. The peloton seemed mostly unconcerned, and the duo rode strongly, enabling them to build a lead which maxed out at 1 minute, 8 seconds. On this mostly flat stage though, there was not a chance in hell the sprinters teams were going to leave them alone to the line. Both Garmin and HTC began the chase and brought the gap down to 15 seconds with 5 km remaining. There was no surrender in the two leaders though, and they held out until, Voeckler sensing that Roy was tiring, rode away from his companion on a short climb about 3 km from the line. Voeckler's never-say-die attitude pushed him along to about 1800 meters to go when the inevitability of the sprint finish brought the freight train roaring down on him and he sat up. Voeckler finished with the main group, in 71st spot, with the same time as stage victor, Mark Cavendish; this moved him up two more spots on g.c., to 28th @ 1:15.

Stage 6: At 226.5 km long, the sixth stage was the longest of this year's Tour. Voeckler flatted with about 17 km to go, and required a bike change to get right again. Teammate Yohaan Gene helped him back up to the bunch, and with 2 km left, Voeckler with Jelle Vanendert attacked off the front. Vanendert, thinking that his team leader, Philip Gilbert, would be in contention at the finish, did not contribute to the effort, and so at the Red Kite, the duo were brought back. Voeckler crossed the line 61st with the same time as stage winner, Edvald Boasson Hagen. This moved him up one more spot, to 27th, 1:15 behind Thor Hushovd who retained the Yellow Jersey by 1 second over Cadel Evans.

Stage 7: The seventh stage was a relatively quiet one, at least for Voeckler. Being the flattest stage of the race it was virtually guaranteed to result in finish contested between the pure sprinters. Voeckler was the 54th rider across the line, finishing in the bunch with the same time as winner, Mark Cavendish. He did move up six more spots in the overall, to 21st @ 1:15. Interviews by VeloNews before the stage Voeckler said that he was racing this Tour "without concrete goals" and that he intended to finish in Paris "without regrets." He went on to say that he would "attack when the legs feel good. Whether I win or not will determine if I have a successful Tour."

Stage 8: The peloton finally got into some more significant climbing as they arrived at the slopes of the Massif Central during the 8th Stage. Voeckler rode a steady day, staying with the Tour g.c. leaders for most of the race. At the end he finished 33rd, in the same group as Radioshack leader Levi Leipheimer, and 29 seconds behind stage winner Rui Alberto Faria de Costa. The finish was enough to move him up two more spots on g.c., to 19th @ 1:29, and only one second back of Rabobank leader, Robert Gesink.

Stage 9: This years Tour has seen more than a fair number of wild days. Today was no exception. Mr. Voeckler was in a breakaway group when a television car tried to squeeze in between the riders and the road edge, when the driver swerved back into the riders, knocking into Juan Antonio Flecha. Flecha was thrown into Voeckler and Johnny Hoogerland. While Voeckler was able to maintain his balance, Hoogerland became airborne and flew into a barbed wire fence beside the road. Both downed riders were eventually able to continue on, Hoogerland after some time had passed and very bloodied. 

Short two riders, the break, now composed of Luis Leon Sanchez, Sandy Casar, and Voeckler, continued on toward the finish in Saint-Flour. The line was atop a short, steep hill in that town, and Sanchez was able to out-muscle Voeckler to take the stage win by 5 seconds. Voeckler however, was nicely compensated by fitting into the Yellow Jersey as new race leader, with a 1:49 lead over stage rival Sanchez. Allez Thomas!

Stage 10: Basically a stage for the sprinters almost proved to be otherwise, as a powerful move by  Philip Gilbert with 15 km to the finish in Carmaux, almost proved decisive and shook off a number of the peloton's fast men. Four other riders jumped onto the wheel of Gilbert when he made his attack, and who should be counted among that group but the Yellow Jersey wearer himself, Voeckler. Surrounded and shielded by his teammates for most of the race, Voeckler exhibited his trademark attacking style in order to go with the King of Spring, and then took it a step further by punching it on the final climb to the line. Though he was beaten to the victory, it is a rare thing to see the Yellow Jersey attacking in circumstances like this, as most Jersey wearers are content to simply defend their lead. Voeckler ended up the 35th rider to cross the line, in the same time as winning sprinter, Andre Greipel. His lead margin remains the same, at 1:49.

Stage 11: One more day for the sprinters. With an early small break up the road, which contained no riders who posed a threat to Voeckler's Yellow Jersey, Team Europcar was able to ride an easy day, letting other teams do the bulk of the work. As a result Voeckler crossed the line in a comfortable 75th spot, and retained the same 1:49 margin on g.c. He was also able to rest his legs for the first real threat to his lead, tomorrow's stage 12, which will hit the steeps of the Pyrenees. Team Europcar hopes to arrive at Luz Ardiden with Voeckler still in the company of the teams best climbers, Pierre Rolland, Cyril Gautier and Anthony Charteau, who will provide much needed support on the big mountains.

Stage 12: The route to victory on stage 12 began along roads tending gradually upward, and ended with three serious climbs, the 1st category d'Ancizan, and the hors categorie ascents of the Col du Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden. The stage played out largely as expected, with a select group forming on the slopes of the Tourmalet. Within this group, or in breaks just ahead, were the overall Tour favorites, and climbing specialists looking for stage glory. And Thomas Voeckler, with his Europcar teammates in support. At the base of the final climb to Luz Ardiden it was Europcar who took over pace setting duties with Sammy Sanchez and Jelle Vanendert up the road, and riding for the stage win. By the final three kilometers only the cream of the crop remained. This is where Voeckler, riding strongly in defense of the Jersey, finally fell away. Of course by this point the group had been shattered apart. At the end it was Sanchez, followed closely by Vanendert, and Frank Schleck; Voeckler finished alongside lieutenant, Pierre Rolland, 50 seconds behind.

It was a big enough effort to allow Voeckler to wear Yellow for another day - France could not have asked much more for a Bastille Day celebration. Voeckler's lead margin remains the same 1:49, but now it is over the much more dangerous Frank Schleck. "You have to believe that the Yellow Jersey gives you a bit of added inspiration on the Bastille Day" said Voeckler. Tomorrow's stage, projected to be the easiest of the three raced in the Pyrenees, will never the less, require Voeckler and his Europcar mates to be ever vigilant, and dedicate themselves once again to defense of the Yellow Jersey. All those g.c favorites right behind will be looking for any opportunity to press their claim for the prize.

Voeckler and Rolland at the stage finish

Stage 13: Team Europcar put in another day of brilliantly managing the peloton, ensuring that no break gained too much advantage, while trying to conserve some energy for tomorrow's more difficult stage. With only one major obstacle, the Col d'Aubisque, standing in the way, and that followed by a long, downward-tending ride to the finish in Lourdes, it was not really in the interests of any of the favorites to attempt a serious attack. As a result Voeckler, and his ever-present t'mates, enjoyed a relatively easy day in the saddle, allowing those further down in the general classification standings a day to race for stage glory. Expect tomorrow to be a different story; there should be a lot of attacking from the g.c. contenders. Voeckler and Europcar will likely be pushed to their limits all the way to the finish at Plateau de Beille. The same Plateau where Voeckler in 2004, wearing the Yellow Jersey, successfully defended it against the onslaught of Lance Armstrong. Will history repeat?

Stage 14: The day's stage was animated by an early, and large break. This group contracted and expanded throughout the day, until by the end of the day, the climb up Plateau de Beille, only Sandy Casar remained. Casar held his advantage to the 6 km mark, when he was passed by Jelle Vanendert, who would win the day. Behind him, the race's g.c. leaders, Voeckler, the Schlecks, Evans, Basso, Contador, Sanchez, Cunego, among them, marked and tested each other. No one racer was able to gain significant advantage over his rivals, and most of this group was able to come in together, 48 seconds behind Vanendert. Once again, Voeckler raced with great determination and effort, his lieutenant Pierre Rolland with him to the end, and was able to successfully defend the Jersey another day, with the same 1:49 g.c. margin over Frank Schleck.

Stage 15: As expected today was another for the sprinters, and the sprinters' teams to do the bulk of the work. As a result Voeckler and Team Europcar had a relatively uneventful and relaxed day. Mark Cavendish picked up another jewel for his sprinters' crown, and Voeckler, another Yellow Jersey. Another rest day, tomorrow, will help the Frenchman and his team prepare for the assault on the Alps, which will commence on Tuesday, and culminate two days later when the peloton tackles the Galibier an l'Alpe d'Huez during stages 18 and 19.

I like what Lance Armstrong had to say about Voeckler in light of the Plateau de Beille finish on stage 14: "He has 2:06 on Evans. Final TT is 42km. He's French. It's the Tour de France. He won't lose 2:06 in the final time trial assuming he keeps them close on Alpe d'Huez. His teammate Pierre Rolland has been a rock star and has to continue to be. Lastly, the dude knows how to suffer. Will be fun to watch."

Stage 16: On the day before hitting the big climbs in the Alps, a Cat 2 climb of the Col de Manse, shook up the race and may have given a preview of what lies in wait. Voeckler, again rode determinedly to finish with the same time as Frank Schleck, who at the stage start was his nearest rival. Voeckler was also able to pad his advantage over both Ivan Basso and Andy Schleck. However he lost precious seconds to Cadel Evans, Alberto Contador, and Samuel Sanchez. Evans has moved into second spot on g.c., 1:45 behind Voeckler. Thomas has done the Jersey proud over the past week +, but unless he can dig deeper than imagined, I fear the next three days will see a shake up at the top spot - Evans continues to ride steady strong, and Contador seems to be coming alive after some early set-backs. Allez, Thomas, Allez! We are still pulling for you.

Stage 17: A considerable number of riders finished ahead of the race favorites on today's mountainous stage, peaking with the Category 1 climb to Sestrieres, and ended with a very tricky plummet on a narrow road down the Cote de Pra Martino. Once again the mythical power of the Yellow Jersey was on display, inspiring Thomas Voeckler to its defense beyond all expectation. Voeckler remained with the other g.c. leaders until misjudging a turn on that final descent, and riding off-course into someone's driveway. Contador and Sanchez were the first of the overall contenders to take the initiative and opened a gap on the descent. Evans, the Schlecks, Cunego, with a small group of others in tow, charged after the pair on a short flat stretch before the finish, and were able to close the gap at the line. Led across by Frank Schleck in 17th spot, the g.c. group finished 4:26 down on stage winner Edvald Boasson Hagan. Voeckler, racing in pursuit following the missed turn, finished another 26 second behind, along with Ivan Basso. The top of the standings have tightened up even more. Voeckler's advantage over Evans is now down to 1:18, and 1:22 over Frank Schleck. If they are unable to wrestle it from his back in the Alps, they may never claim it for themselves. Two very difficult days to come before the race of truth, and then Paris. Allez, Thomas!

Stage 18: I can't think of many stages that have turned out as exciting as todays finishing atop the Galibier. Who among the contenders would be unable to answer? Would Voeckler, who has already exceeded expectations, be able to come through yet again? Would one of the Schleck brothers make a decisive move? At the end Andy Schleck did make his move (some 60 km long); hats off to him, it was decisive and strong, and won him the stage. Samuel Sanchez lost all chance of Tour victory. Contador lost a handful of time (I still refuse to count him out though until the race finishes with the mountains tomorrow). Evans, in a scenario which has become all too common, was forced to lead the chase, and though he powerfully closed the gap to A. Schleck, how much will the effort end up costing him. Frank Schleck rode tactically in support. Basso and Cunego were there at the end. Voeckler rode another brilliantly inspiring and Yellow Jersey inspired race, with teammate Pierre Rolland by his side most of the way, to remain atop the g.c. podium. It is tight though, only 15 seconds separating him from second placed Andy Schleck, 1:08 to Frank, and 1:12 to Cadel. Right now it looks like those four men battling for the top three spots, and two days to decide. It is all about recovery tonight, because two big mountains lie in wait tomorrow. Allez, Thomas!

Voeckler had this to say following the stage finish: "I saw that it was just under three minutes, so I said to Pierre Rolland that we had to ride. And it worked. It's like a miracle. This is a triumph that I fought for will all my strength. I came across the line and I knew that Andy Schleck could have taken the yellow jersey but I've kept it by just 15 seconds. I hadn't noticed that Contador had been dropped. I was especially afraid that he would put in a big attack in the last two or three kilometers."

Stage 19: So Voeckler's ride in Yellow came to its end today. That was expected. What was not expected was how long it would take the other g.c. hopefuls to dislodge him from the top spot. Very few in the cycling world, not even Voeckler himself believed there was much chance he could hold on through the Pyrenees, let alone two days in the Alps, and all that came before and between those two unforgiving mountain ranges. It was one of the unexpected turn of events that make Grand Tours memorable, when we look back and compare, over the succeeding years. The three big climbs of the day, the Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier, and the Alpe d'Huez proved to be too much at the end. The attacks and responding chases eventually wore him down. On the slopes of the Galibier, Voeckler told his faithful lieutenant, Pierre Rolland, "seize your chance, don't worry about me." After chasing up the Galibier, and then on the long descent to the foot of Alpe d'Huez, Voeckler was able to latch on to a group containing Cadel Evans and Frank Schleck. Contador and A. Schleck were not far ahead, which meant that at the foot of the Tour's final big climb Thomas Voeckler was still in Yellow. But it is the Alpe after all, and while many have ridden it's hairpin turns to victory, just as many have succumbed to them. Leg-weary beyond, what I believe most of us could imagine, Thomas slipped away from the new leaders once again, for a final time. Pierre Rolland, after taking his leaders' advice, did seize his chance, winning the stage, and claiming the White Jersey. Afterwards he had this to say about Voeckler, "this is also where I see that he is a great champion, one who was able to tell me to go at the right time."

Stage 20: The Race of Truth. One last big effort in this year's Tour. I feel it safe to say that Thomas Voeckler put everything he had left into the effort. At the end of it all he crossed the line with the 13th best time of the day, 57:47, two minutes, 14 seconds off the time of stage winner, Tony Martin. Not quite enough to knock Frank Schleck from the third step of the podium, but a respectable performance from a non-time trial specialist anyway. 

Stage 21: With today's finish sprint on the Champs-Elysees the latest edition of the Tour de France has come to an end. The memories of what Thomas Voeckler accomplished during these few short weeks will remain. French fans lining the roads, watching from home, or even around the world had more reason to wave the French tricolor than they have in many years. The grit and determination Voeckler exhibited to win the Jersey and then defend it, the panache he exhibited while wearing it, and then, what had to have been painful heartbreak after giving everything to it, when the Jersey slipped from his grasp. In my eyes those are marks of a true champion. There are two others that solidify that opinion. The first I noted two days ago, when during his final day in Yellow, and knowing deep down that his time was up, he gave the ever loyal Pierre Rolland, free reign, to seize his chance and ride for glory. Rolland did just that. The second incident came during the following day's individual time trail. The Yellow was gone, it was unrecoverable. Never-the-less, Voeckler rode a champions race, clearly rode his heart out, an honorific to his time spent in the Jersey. Today, Thomas Voeckler finished the 2011 Tour in the bunch, crossing the final line 104th, secure in the number 4 spot on the g.c. ladder. If we judged a rider on impact though, that finish might be even higher. Well done Thomas Voeckler.


  1. Well researched. To me Voeckler is why racing is exciting. The guy is relentless, and turns himself inside out to just try and make something happen.

  2. Climbers make races like the Tour exciting in the mountains, sprinters at the very end of sprint stages, and guys like Voeckler the rest of the time. Unfortunately this years Tour lost another rider with similar style yesterday, when Vino crashed out.


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