This report was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Just as the Tour de France was shaping up as a huge letdown for the Europcar team, their irrepressible leader Thomas Voeckler produced an astonishing performance to take victory after a riveting stage through the Jura massif to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.
The strongest member of a five-man group who had initially been part of a much larger pack of two dozen riders that broke clear in a frantic opening hour, Voeckler initiated his winning move 1.5km from the line. With Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) already making a lone bid for glory and being pursued by Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan), Voeckler accelerated away from Luis León Sánchez (Rabobank) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre) and set off after the two ahead.
The Frenchman was on and then past them in seconds. Although the final kilometer-long drag up to the line must have seemed never-ending to Voeckler, none of the four riders chasing behind looked likely to prevent him giving the home nation their second success of the race following Thibaut Pinot’s victory in Porrentruy. Having led the race over the final two climbs of the day, Voeckler also took the lead in the mountains classification.
Voeckler dug deep to score the third Tour de France stage win of his career
“I’m 33 years old and this is my 10th Tour de France, so I fully appreciate what is happening to me. I knew that the King of the Mountains jersey was possible, but I wanted to win the stage,” said Voeckler. “No one would help me push on the climbs, they just sat on my wheel. That annoyed me, but it also inspired me. Coming into the finish, I waited for my moment and then went. When I crossed that line, I felt such a rush. My knees hurt, everything hurts, but I couldn’t give up.”
In late June it seemed very likely that Voeckler would have to sit out the Tour as the result of tendinitis in his knee. Once he had confirmed he was riding, Voeckler’s Europcar team was embroiled in controversy after it was reported that they were being investigated for alleged doping. When the race did get under way, Voeckler and co-leader Pierre Rolland struggled to keep pace with the leading contenders.
“Although some people said there was nothing wrong with me, everything I said about my knee in the run-up to the Tour was true. I wasn’t acting. I always say what I feel and when asked a question I tell people exactly how it is. I spent eight days at home doing nothing in June. But I don’t care what people say about me,” said Voeckler in typically spiky fashion.
Nibali puts Sky under pressure
There was no change at the very top of the general classification, although that was not from lack of trying on the part of fourth-placed Vincenzo Nibali. The Liquigas rider had confirmed on Tuesday’s rest day that he was going to attack and lived up to his word. It was little surprise when he made his move going over the top of the Grand Colombier and heading onto its treacherous descent.
Demon descender Nibali quickly opened a gap that stretched to almost a minute coming off the Grand Colombier. There he joined up with teammate Peter Sagan, who had been dropped from the breakaway group, and the pair continued to press. However, Sky always looked to be in control of the situation and reeled Nibali in before the final climb of the day, the 3rd-cat Col de Richemond.
Lotto-Belisol leader Jurgen Van den Broeck did manage to gain some valuable seconds on his GC rivals after attacking in the final 500m of the climb up the Grand Colombier. Joined by Europcar’s Pierre Rolland, the Belgian gained 32 seconds on the line, which lifted him a place to eighth overall. However, there was no change at the very top of the GC as the main favourites all finished together in a group led in by Thibaut Pinot.
Sky kept the order to protect Wiggins' jersey
Frantic action from the flag
As soon as the flag was dropped to signal the start of the day’s action, the front of the bunch was a frenzy of attacks. Peter Sagan and Astana’s Andrei Grivko were the first to escape the clutches of the peloton in the company of Saur-Sojasun’s Cyril Lemoine.
The Frenchman fell back, but Sagan and Grivko soon had plenty of company as they were joined by BMC’s Marcus Burghardt and Steve Cummings, RadioShack’s Yaroslav Popovych and Jens Voigt, Europcar’s Yukiya Arashiro and Thomas Voeckler, Euskaltel’s Egoi Martínez, Lampre leader Michele Scarponi, Garmin’s David Millar and Dave Zabriskie, Ag2r’s Jean-Christophe Peraud, Saur’s Fabrice Jeandesboz, Katusha’s Joan Horrach, FDJ’s Sandy Casar, Yauheni Hutarovich and Matthieu Ladagnous, Saxo Bank’s Karsten Kroon and Michael Morkov, Astana’s Dmitri Fofonov, Rabobank’s Luis León Sánchez, Omega Pharma’s Dries Devenyns and Orica’s Simon Gerrans and Matt Goss.
The lead group covered 49.8km in the first hour. As they reached the stage’s first hills, the peloton behind finally eased off, allowing the gap to expand to more than seven minutes.
Goss and Sagan were watching each other closely with a view to the intermediate sprint. Set up by Gerrans, Goss took it. Hutarovich provided the Australian with a bonus when he beat Sagan for second, enabling Goss to trim five points off the Slovak’s points competition lead, which now stands at 27.
Although the climb of the Grand Colombier was a good distance out from the finish, the 17km climb offered a good opportunity to those riders aiming to put race leader Bradley Wiggins under pressure. However, the Briton’s teammates kept the bunch under firm control, with Edvald Boasson Hagen and Richie Porte particularly prominent.
The breakaway contained Michele Scarponi (Lampre), Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan), Luis León Sánchez (Rabobank) and Voeckler
Up ahead, the breakaway group splintered when Scarponi upped the pace on the Grand Colombier’s steepest ramps. After a number of attacks, just four riders remained at the front: Scarponi, Sánchez, Devenyns and Voeckler. The Frenchman made a number of attempts to escape them, but was unable to stay clear for long. Often looking frustrated, he had to content himself with collecting maximum KoM points on the Grand Colombier and Richemond.
Voigt descended rapidly off the latter to join the four leaders with 10km remaining. He hardly hesitated before launching an attack, which was the first of many that Voeckler chased down. All four riders tried to escape from the Frenchman, but Voeckler would not be denied. As canny and gutsy as ever, he had the measure of them all, putting his team’s Tour right back on track.