Thomas Voeckler was the first non-Spaniard to the top the 'montée Laurent Jalabert' in Mende as he finished fifth in stage 4 of Paris-Nice today behind Alberto Contador (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha).
To finish only 20 seconds after the Tour de France champion was satisfying for the Bbox Bouygues Telecom Frenchman who preceded Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas-Doimo), Christophe Le Mével (Française des Jeux) and defending champion Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne).
"Although I knew my team and my directeurs sportifs were confident in me, I didn't want to be forgotten by the public," Voeckler told Cyclingnews a few minutes after the stage finish. "I was really well positioned at the bottom of the climb. My team had done a great job to place me well there. I wouldn't have given my position away.
"I took a lot of risks. That reassured me about my personal confidence. A couple of years ago I would have attacked early in such a climb but I'm more reasonable now. I can't pretend that I'll distance the top Spanish riders just like that."
Voeckler opted to hold on. "Had I been offered a 5th place this morning, I would have signed for it straight away," he added. "This edition of Paris-Nice is really contested at a high level. I don't want to do self-congratulations, but I just know there's no coincidence being up there today.
Last year, Voeckler won the Etoile de Bessèges and the Tour du Haut-Var but broke a collarbone at Paris-Nice the day after finishing 2nd behind Jérémy Roy in stage 4. The Frenchman was pleased to get a similarly strong result this year.
"I haven't had the same results as last year in the earliest part of the season but at the Tour of Sardegna I was already in good company [he finished 3rd at the Italian stage race in February]. Today is not a win, though. I only appreciate the nice ride.
"By experience, I know the hardest in Paris-Nice is the last stage," said the 30-year-old whose best overall classification in the "race to the sun" so far is 18th in 2005. The top 10 looks like a real possibility for Voeckler this year.