The day after his fruitless attack en route to Nuits-Saint-Georges, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) was inspired by other famous vineyards in Burgundy to claim the first stage win of his career at Paris-Nice.
“For a few years now, I’ve initiated decisive breakaways but that doesn’t mean the win was at the end of the road,” the French champion said of the five-man group that he created just 6km after the start of stage 4. “We calculated our efforts pretty well. We discussed and agreed that we would only accelerate after the last climb, unless our advantage went under two minutes before that. It happened, so we rode hard on that climb.”
Voeckler has started Paris-Nice every year since 2003 and came close to winning in 2009 (second to Jérémy Roy in Vallon-Pont d’Arc the day before crashing and breaking a collarbone) and in 2010 (second to Amaël Moinard in Nice on the final day).
“I’m so happy it worked out today,” he said. “The stage win was my only goal. I didn’t break away for the polka dot jersey, I won it at Paris-Nice in 2007 and it didn’t change my life. I’m second on GC and I’ll give everything in the time trial but I remain clear, I’m not a time trial machine like Tony Martin or Bradley Wiggins, I don’t compete in the same category as them against the clock. I’ll give my best until the end but this Paris-Nice is already a successful one for me. Now I can definitely say that I’m having my best early season ever.”
Voeckler played a major role in the rescue of the former Bbox Bouygues Telecom team in October last year as car hire-company Europcar came on board as a sponsor at the last minute on the condition that he stayed with the team. The French champion now feels the burden of some extra responsibilities in the renamed team, and he was pleased to honour the invitation they received to Paris-Nice.
“We hope to return to the first division of cycling, which we can only get through good results,” he said. “But for now, we have to rely on wildcards for racing at the highest level. I’m grateful to race organisers that we have the opportunity to ride Paris-Nice, the Tour of Flanders and the Tour de France this year, but I’m upset and disappointed not to be able to take part in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“I finished 10th – and first Frenchman – last year, so it’s a big frustration to be left out this time. But we know how it works. Organisers have no obligation towards us. Should our team be part of the World Tour, it would be automatic.”
Liège-Bastogne-Liège organisers ASO have granted Europcar a wild card for the Tour de France. With the stage 2 team time trial on July 3 to be held in the backyard of their team’s headquarters in Les Essarts in the west of France, the local fans will have ample occasion to support France’s most popular cyclist.