By Jean-François Quénet
Thomas Voeckler was one of the last winners of the 2006 season, when he claimed a solo victory at the French cup final Paris-Bourges in October. Having taken a rest on the island of Martinique, where he spend his childhood, Voeckler has now set his mind on the upcomiong season. For the first time the 2004 Tour de France hero - where he wore the yellow jersey for ten days - will double at the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France. In the meantime, Voeckler is preparing his return to competition in 2007 where he started his pro career: in Malaysia for Le Tour de Langkawi, from February 2 to 11.
"This race has a special place in my heart because Malaysia is where my pro career began," Voeckler said. "I had done Paris-Bourges as a stagiaire with team Bonjour but that was just a try. In February 2001, I really became a professional cyclist when I started in Le Tour de Langkawi. It was a good way to discover my new world. I was impressed by the speed. I thought the bunch was going extremely fast. Then I found out that it's the same all year, so I had to get used to this level of cycling."
"I rode Le Tour de Langkawi twice. I did it also in 2002 and I've always enjoyed it because there was no stress for us compared to the other races in Europe. The team didn't put a lot of pressure on us. It was a good way to begin a season," Voeckler added. Now riding for Bouygues-Telecom, there might be higher ambitions in Malaysia for the Frenchman.
The 27-year-old charismatic rider is adamant: "Laurent Lefèvre made a top 10 last year. He's determined to ride Le Tour de Langkawi for the win in 2007. Him and Didier Rous who have stopped their 2006 season earlier than me should have more training and a better condition than me in February. I'll be there to help and try and go in breakaways."
Voeckler believes the Giro will help him gear up for this year's Tour de France as he knows from experience that no other bike race in the world can impact on a rider's career in the way the Tour does.
"I prefer to start racing under the sun. I finished my 2006 season quite late with a win in Paris-Bourges and a participation to the Tour of Lombardy and the Chrono des Nations in October. In 2007 I will try to have a good early season, then a break, then I will double Tour of Italy and Tour de France," he explained. "After the 2004 Tour de France, many race organizers asked for me to attend. This kind of pressure has cooled down a bit now, so I'm able to make my own choices for my race program. As a start of a season, I've done Le Tour de Langkawi twice, the Tour of Qatar three times and the Etoile de Bessèges once. Now I feel like Langkawi is the best for me this year. I have asked my team to line me up there."
Voeckler has never made a mystery that he thought he'd never be able to repeat his 2004 Tour de France fairytale, but he keeps winning races regularly. Last year he was the first Frenchman to claim a Pro Tour success with a stage win in the Tour of the Basque country, then he won the Route du Sud plus a stage and Paris-Bourges at the end of the year.
Bouygues-Telecom was one of 21 teams announced to compete in this year's tour last week.
Bouygues-Telecom's Le Tour de Langkawi lineup:
Yoann Le Boulanger