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Laurent Jalabert believes that Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) can shine at the world championships in Valkenburg in September. The French manager visited the course on Tuesday to carry out his first reconnaissance.
“Thomas Voeckler has all the required qualities as well as the experience, physical resistance and intelligence,” Jalabert told L’Équipe after inspecting the circuit, which features the sharp climb of the Cauberg in the finale.
While Jalabert is confident that Voeckler can be a contender on the final laps of the puncheurs’ course, he was more circumspect about Sylvain Chavanel’s chances, and suggested that he might encourage the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider to go on the offensive earlier on in the race.
“If it’s going to be decided on the final climb, then I don’t think he has the means to compete for the win,” he said. “But his best performances come when he goes on the attack 50km from the finish.”
Nonetheless, Jalabert is adamant that he will keep his options open and refused to dismiss sprinter Romain Feillu’s chances, even though the finish line comes just 1.4km after the summit of the Cauberg, which features gradients of 12%. “Today, I’d put him on the same level as [Oscar] Freire, so if I believe that Freire can win, then why can’t he?”
The 2012 Worlds begin in Maastricht and the peloton must cover 100km before reaching the circuit at Valkenburg. Jalabert warned that riders will have to be vigilant on the twisting roads that mark the first part of the race.
“The first 100km aren’t the most difficult, but they are delicate and you’ll have to take care that a break doesn’t go from distance,” he said. “After that, another race begins.”
That race within a race sees the bunch tackle ten laps of a 16.5km circuit, featuring the climbs of the Bemelerberg and the Cauberg. Unlike the Amstel Gold Race, the finish is not at the summit of the Cauberg, but comes 1.4km later, as was the case when the Worlds took place in Valkenburg in 1998.
Jalabert famously opted not to participate in that world championships, but recalled that Oskar Camenzind’s winning attack did not come on the Cauberg.
“Apart from the last lap, it’s not a given that the Cauberg is going to be hard enough to make a selection,” he pointed out. “I saw the Worlds in 1998 on television, and I remember that the attacks went on the false flat on the other side of the circuit.”
On that occasion, World Cup winner Michele Bartoli was the favourite for the rainbow jersey, but the Italian was unable to force his way clear on the climbs had to settle for bronze.
“If a rider like Gilbert decides to attack on the Cauberg, he is capable of going all the way, but he might also stall,” Jalabert noted.