Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) comes out of the 2011 Tour de France with the kind of fame that no one would have predicted at the start of the race in Vendée. He became the first Frenchman to make the top five since Christophe Moreau finished fourth in 2000.
Despite a string of ten days in the maillot jaune, Voeckler's podium time at the Tour is likely now over. On the Champs-Elysées on Sunday, aside from the yet-to-be determined stage winner, Cadel Evans will don the final maillot jaune, Samuel Sanchez the polka dot jersey of best climber, Pierre Rolland the white jersey of best young rider and probably Mark Cavendish as points classification winner. Already voted most aggressive rider was Jérémy Roy and the winners of the team classification are Garmin-Cervélo.
Voeckler did a good time trial as he finished 13th ahead of the Schleck brothers (Andy 17th and Fränk 20th), but the Leopard Trek riders will be the ones who will accompany Evans on the final podium.
The Europcar captain didn't blame his race against the clock for missing out. "I've given everything," the Frenchman said. "But I had already lost my spot on the podium yesterday, not today.
"I'm disappointed because I've caressed the dream of making the top three of the Tour de France," he added. "But it was a dream. That means it was not accessible. When I remember that our team was going to collapse on September 30 last year, what we've done is fabulous: ten days in yellow jersey, Pierre Rolland's stage win at l'Alpe d'Huez and the white jersey… It's more than we expected."
Later after the time trial of Grenoble, Voeckler admitted that he believed after saving his yellow jersey at the top of the Galibier on stage 18 that he would finish second overall behind Evans. But stage 19 to l'Alpe d'Huez didn't go as well as he expected. In consolation, he realised during the warm up for the time trial how big his popularity has become over the course of the past three weeks.
"In the middle of the race, I was too focused," he said. "But at training this morning, I've had a bit of time to listen to the encouragements. If we've delivered happiness to the people in this hard time for many, it's a good thing."
French fans haven't have such a performance to enjoy in the past ten years. Best Frenchmen overall successively were François Simon (6th in 2001), David Moncoutié (13th in 2002), Christophe Moreau (8th in 2003, 12th in 2004, 11th in 2005), Cyril Dessel (6th in 2006), Stéphane Goubert (27th in 2007), Sandy Casar (11th in 2008), Christophe Le Mével (10th in 2009) and John Gadret (19th in 2010).
It wasn't only about Voeckler, as four other French riders are set to finish in the top 15: former mountain biker Jean-Christophe Péraud 10th, Rolland 11th, Jérôme Coppel 14th and rookie Arnold Jeannesson 15th.
However, Voeckler's season isn't coming to an end despite the 78 days of racing accumulated on his schedule on the last day of the Tour de France. He'll take part in a few post-Tour criteriums: at Lisieux on July 26, in Luxembourg on July 28, in Castillon-la-Bataille on August 2nd. Some more might be added even though he prefers proper races than shows.
One thing he does want to do though is to go home. Voecklers wife gave birth a daughter, Lila, four days before the start of the Tour, and the Frenchman has been away since. He intends to resume competing at the Tour de Poitou-Charentes (23-26 August) followed by the GP Ouest-France in Plouay (28 August), World Tour race he has won before back in 2007.