Voeckler wins in first break of Tour de France; Armstrong still second
July 8, 2009 —
Thomas Voeckler looked over his shoulder and couldn’t believe he was about to win a stage at the Tour de France.
The 30-year-old timed it just right to hold off the fast-chasing peloton and the Frenchman from the Bbox-Bouygues Telecom team had just enough time -- seven seconds to be exact -- to celebrate a hard-earned stage win that was seven years in the making.
“I turned around to make sure I was going to win and I had a moment to enjoy the victory,” Voeckler said. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this win.”
Voeckler was part of a five-man breakaway that held clear in the 196.5km fifth stage from Cap-d’Agde to Perpignan, the first winning break so far in the 2009 Tour.
The main pack roared in just a 100 yards behind Voeckler, with Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) protecting his minuscule lead of 0.22 seconds on Lance Armstrong (Astana) to retain the race leader’s yellow jersey.
“I didn’t think the breakaway would make it, so I wasn’t really thinking too much about tactics like I usually do when I am in an escape,” Voeckler said. “When I heard we had 1:20 with 10km to go, I knew it would stick. I looked around and I realized that my only chance would be to arrive alone.”
Voeckler is one of those head-bangers who try to upset the apple cart and venture off on daring attacks that are great for the headlines but rarely succeed. In a race as important as the Tour, a breakaway might succeed four or five times in the course of three weeks of racing.
But the sprinter teams botched the chase. Strong crosswinds buffeted the peloton as it pushed south toward Spain, where the Tour enters Thursday for the sixth stage to Barcelona.
At one point, the pack broke into four smaller groups as Cancellara and his Saxo Bank team tried to separate the wheat from the chafe. The main pack eventually regrouped, but it was too late to reel in the attacking Voeckler.
The stage victory is a first for Voeckler, who made a name for himself in the 2004 Tour de France when he snagged the yellow jersey in a similar move in the first week.
Then a largely unknown rider, Voeckler surprised many to defend the yellow jersey all the way into the Pyrénées, earning kudos from eventual winner Armstrong, who hailed his courage and said he was a rider to watch.
But by his own admission, Voeckler never had the engine to stay with the leanest mountain goats or motor with the time trial specialists to ever hope to win a three-week grand tour.
Instead, he earned his paycheck sneaking away in breakaways, earning TV for his title sponsors and winning the occasional stage.
In fact, Wednesday’s big win was his first stage victory in the Tour in seven starts.
“I was a little bit younger when I wore the yellow jersey,” he said. “Now I know the value of what it means to be successful in the Tour. I know I can never win the Tour, but it was my dream to win a stage.”
French fans cheered deliriously when Voeckler crossed the line for France’s first stage win of the 2009 Tour. As they say in France, chapeau!
Former Vail Daily editor Andrew Hood now lives in Spain and covers cycling. His reports on the 96th Tour de France will appear daily on RealVail.com. Also follow him on twitter at twitter.com/eurohoody.
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