Voeckler survives double scare

France's bright young thing reserved a second day in the yellow jersey despite a double scare on the

France’s bright young thing reserved a second day in the yellow jersey despite a double scare on the

PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Lance Armstrong will think twice the next time his is tempted to whisper words of esteem in the ear of Thomas Voeckler. Today, 19km into stage 6 of the Tour between Bonneval and Angers, Armstrong and Voeckler, the man who deprived him of the yellow jersey, found themselves side by side when the Tour peloton decided to play dominoes for the umpteenth time this week. Armstrong had just complimented Voeckler on succeeding him as the race leader in Chartres; now the five-time Tour champion was falling at his feet. Voeckler couldn’t react and rode over Armstrong’s ankle. Some gratitude. “I hope that [Armstrong] will forgive me,” Voeckler said tonight through the smile, which has made him an overnight French ‘chouchou’. “Earlier he was many other riders to congratulate me. It’s very gratifying to receive that kind of recognition from riders who, if only because of the language barrier, you don’t usually speak to. It warms the heart; I’m even a bit embarrassed. “The attention and excitement reserved for me today was something completely new,” Voeckler, 25, enthused. “I had never seen so many people around our team bus at the start village. At the start this evening we decided that it was OK to let a break go, providing it contained no more than six riders. My Brioches La Boulangre team-mates did a great job in restricting the time gap before the sprinters’ teams took over in the closing stages. It was a great to see how much support the yellow jersey inspires. I’m just happy to be keeping it for one more day.” Voeckler’s advantage on general classification stood firm at over three minutes tonight, only slightly corroded by the 12 bonus seconds Stuart O’Grady earned for his second-place stage finish. Voeckler also emerged unscathed and untroubled by a mle under the 1km-to-go flag: the commissaires adjudged that the crash had taken place inside the final kilometre. All time gaps opened up thereafter were annulled. “I was on the left side of the road, precisely where the crash took place. It was by sheer luck that I was able to stay up,” Voeckler recalled this evening. Caught behind the pile-up, Lance Armstrong was another rider to benefit from the neutralisation of the final kilometre. If Armstrong’s may be more sparing in his plaudits of Voeckler in the days to come, Brioches La Boulangre will continue to saviour the reflected glory of the yellow jersey for some time yet. With an advantage of more than nine minutes on Armstrong on general classification, the Frenchman raised in Martinique could now defend his lead until next Friday. That is when the Tour will finally hit Pyrenees with a first summit finish at La Mongie. Even there, Voeckler boasts good pedigree: his penultimate win prior to the Tour happened to be in the Pyrenees, at Loudonvielle, in the final stage of the Route du Sud. All that can surely hurt Voeckler over the coming week is a lapse in concentration, adverse luck, or the burden of over-exposure in a country whose yearning for a Tour hero dates from 1998 and the Festina scandal. No sooner had the yellow jersey been draped over Voeckler’s shoulders yesterday than his mentor and team-mate, Didier Rous, appealed to the French press: “Don’t put too much pressure on him.” Coming from Rous, a Festina Tour rider six years ago this week, they were poignant words indeed.