By Jean-François Quénet in Ligné, France
Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) has been a professional for eight years and is finally contesting his first Circuit de la Sarthe-Pays de la Loire, a race starting almost in front of his house in Mouilleron-le-Captif in Vendée. A change in program allowed him to contest his home event this year.
"Usually I was doing the Tour of the Basque country [where he won a stage in 2006 - ed.] but that wasnt possible this year due to my change of program, including the Tour of Flanders," Voeckler told Cyclingnews.
Voeckler went away with Agritubel's Anthony Ravard on the race's opening stage, where he demonstrated his experience as a professional by saving energy for a time trial effort in the stage's final 20 kilometres. The Frenchman worked with the sprinters' teams, which focused on the right time to catch the leaders as usual.
The time bonus from his second placing on the opening stage puts Voeckler 21 seconds ahead of time triallists like Russian champion Vladimir Gusev (Astana), French champion Benoît Vaugrenard (Française des Jeux) and Dutch champion Stef Clement, who is his team-mate at Bouygues Telecom. It's a handy margin to have over the speciallists in the discipline ahead of tomorrow's Stage 2b, a nine kilometre time trial in Angers. The time trial is set to be the turning point of the French race, after Andreas Klöden won the stage last year and was then never headed for the lead.
Voeckler was sick during the rainy Tour of California, therefore he couldnt take part in Paris-Nice. Instead he prepared for his spring campaign at the Volta Santarem in Portugal, before going on to take fourth place at the GP E3.
"It had been a long time since I didnt hurt myself so much," he said. "What I did in Belgium motivates me for the Circuit de la Sarthe, Paris-Camembert and the Ardennes Classics that Ill do after that."
The Bouygues Telecom team of Jean-René Bernaudeau hasnt won the Circuit de la Sarthe, a local race for the team, since Didier Rous edged out Australian Bradley McGee in 2002.