The odds may have been stacked against escapees, but Thomas Voeckler (France) was a typically pugnacious presence in the UCI World Championships road race in Copenhagen on Sunday, as he attempted to break the sprinters' stranglehold on the race by sparking a three-man break on the penultimate lap.
On the least selective course since Zolder in 2002, Voeckler's attack was ultimately an exercise in tilting at windmills, as Bradley Wiggins and the British team shut down the move to set up victory for Mark Cavendish. Speaking to reporters shortly after crossing the line, however, a tired Voeckler had no qualms about his quixotic effort.
"I was hoping for a surprise but I don't have any regrets," Voeckler said. "Frankly, when see who won, you can't have any regrets about trying. I think it was better to attack than to finish down in the peloton in the sprint."
Voeckler was joined in his initial attack by Nikki Sorensen (Denmark) and Klaas Lodewijk (Belgium), but for different reasons, he found his accomplices lacked his own sense of urgency. "Sorensen thought that there were two laps left when in fact we were coming into the last one, and I think Lodewijk was thinking about [Philippe] Gilbert behind so he didn't really risk everything," Voeckler said ruefully.
Though Johnny Hoogerland (Netherlands) provided robust reinforcement on the final lap as their lead hovered around the 15-second mark, Wiggins' metronomic pursuit behind meant that the break was always doomed to failure and after another late rally, Voeckler was definitively brought to heel with 7km to race.
It was an aggressive day of racing all around from the French team, and manager Laurent Jalabert had earlier sent Anthony Roux and the stylish Yoann Offredo up the road in a bid to break the deadlock in the main peloton. Voeckler explained that they were under no illusions as to the scale of their task beforehand.
"It wasn't a Worlds that suited everybody. We knew that before coming here, and you just have to adapt to the profile," Voeckler said. "We tried to do it, but a lot of other teams were set up around their sprinters. As I said before the race, it would have been hard for it to end up in anything other than a sprint, but that's no scandal on a course like that. It wasn't for everybody."
Inspired by his ride, Voeckler vowed to continue his season until the Tour of Lombardy – "Given the legs I had today, I want to have a go" – but in the longer term, he is hopeful that he will find more fertile attacking terrain in world championships to come, as the race tackles decidedly more demanding circuits in the next few years.
"In Valkenburg, Florence and Spain, the average speed won't be 46kph. I just hope I won't be too old by then to attack again in the finale," Voeckler grinned.