Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) has blamed radio earpieces for the mass pile-up on stage 6 of the Tour de France that saw four riders abandon the race and an estimated further 13 go to hospital for check-ups on Friday evening.
Voeckler was himself caught up in the carnage that struck at Gorze, a shade over 25 kilometres from the finish in Metz. Although he was able to pick his way through unscathed, he lost over 6 minutes, while his Europcar teammate Pierre Rolland’s overall hopes suffered a dent when he came in 2:09 down on the stage.
After wheeling to a halt after the finish line, Voeckler calmly spelt out his point of view to a group of journalists, while the battle-scarred and haunted remnants of the peloton ghosted home all around them.
“It was a crazy speed at the point when everyone fell, so it was a big, big crash. But in any case, the main thing responsible is this…” Voeckler said, pointing to the radio earpiece dangling out of the collar of his jersey.
“You’ve got the directeurs sportifs from 22 teams saying ‘you have to be up there, you have to be up there,’” Voeckler continued. “Well, if you have 198 riders like that on a road that’s only seven metres wide, then there’s not going to be room for anyone else. Voilà.”
It was perhaps telling that Voeckler had crossed the line with his earpiece hanging loose, and he decried the instructions that had apparently been barked in unison by 22 directeurs sportifs in the finale.
“With all the pressure that’s being put on via the earpieces, I think it’s the same on all teams. You then have one point where all the riders try to move up and mathematically that just doesn’t add up,” he said.
After coolly delivering his invective, Voeckler insisted that he had no interest in being the figurehead of a renewed debate on the thorny issue of radio earpieces, which are currently outlawed in non-WorldTour events.
“I’ve always taken a position against the earpieces but I’m not going to start a polemic about it now,” Voeckler said. “It’s not my job. My job is to pedal et voilà.”
Yellow jersey for 10 days in 2011, Voeckler has endured a rather more trying opening week this time around. News of an inquiry into corticoid use at Europcar clouded the team’s build-up to the race, while Voeckler himself has been beset by a knee injury, and is now almost a quarter of an hour down in 115th place overall.