In an exclusive interview with Cyclingnews, Thomas Voeckler expressed his frustration at crashing only a few hours after his first appearance on Australian soil, where he had serious intentions of giving a Tour de France-like one-man show.
"I was so happy to be here," Voeckler said at the media center of the Santos Tour Down Under in Adelaide. "I had never come to Australia and this race. Our team did it before when we were sponsored by Bouygues Telecom and I always said that, if another chance arose, I'd be first to put my hand up for a trip to Adelaide. I wanted to discover the event, the country, the environment, the fans… I'd heard so many good things about the Tour Down Under!
"This year, I also had another reason for taking part in this race: in the past few years, I've struggled finding the rhythm of the racing in the early part of the season. It meant I had to resume racing early and Europcar's upgrade to the WorldTour simply meant that my duty was to be here for the first WorldTour race of the 2014 season."
"I'm going to be honest," Voeckler continued. "I wouldn't have won the Tour Down Under because riders like Simon Gerrans, Cadel Evans and Richie Porte, having performed as they did at the Australian national championships, are at a higher level than me at the moment. However, I never show up at a race for nothing and I'm sure it would have been profitable. Had I been in form, the course of the Tour Down Under suited me really well. In any case, this race would have been beneficial for my build-up to the 2014 season."
Voeckler crashed into a car on the coastal town of Glenelg. "A few minutes earlier, near the beach, I was telling my teammates that we've got a fantastic job," he recalled. "Never in my career had I crashed into a car and it happened at 25km/h. I was looking behind because I heard the noise of a fire brigade vehicle and I wondered if we had to give way for it.
"My team-mate Kevin Reza told me to be careful but too late, the car in front of us suddenly braked because of two pedestrians unexpectedly crossing the road. That's what the car driver told me when he took me back in his car to our hotel in Adelaide. Here we drive and ride on the left side of the road, which might have influenced my reaction in that situation, but I wasn't tired or anything. It wasn't because of the jet lag."
The Europcar team landed in Adelaide on Wednesday at 8am, reached the Hilton hotel at about 10am. "At 11.15am, we went for a ride, like all riders do after such a long journey, because you need to turn the legs on the pedals," Voeckler said. "And I crashed at about noon."
It's been a long journey for the rider who left his home in Mouilleron-le-Captif in the west of France on Saturday because his flight from Paris to Kuala Lumpur was scheduled on Sunday at noon. On reaching Paris CDG airport with his teammates and Europcar staff at 9am, he learned that the flight had been postponed to Monday at 11am due to an oil tank failure. They eventually reached South Australia after three and half days of travelling. Now the yellow jersey wearer of the Tour de France in 2004 and 2011 will make his way back on Thursday, leaving Adelaide at 2pm.
"Looking at the x-ray, an operation is inevitable," Voeckler said. "But unlike the previous two times that I broke this same collarbone, the displacement of the collarbone is negligible. It's a bit early to tell when I'll be back racing but I'm certainly not in the same situation as last year after the accident at the Amstel Gold Race, when I was in a hurry to resume racing in mid-May because the Tour de France was approaching.
"This year, I had planned to peak for Paris-Nice but if I'm not able to take part in this race or in Tirreno-Adriatico, I might well replace it with Le Tour de Langkawi, which I've race several times before." Indeed, Le Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia was Voeckler's first professional race in 2001.