Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) has saved the yellow jersey on Thursday by an even smaller margin than he had done in 2004, when he preserved a 22-second lead over Lance Armstrong ahead of stage 15 to Villard-de-Lans. On that occasion, he eventually lost the jersey on the eve of the uphill individual time trial to l’Alpe d’Huez, but seven years on, the Frenchman will climb the famous 21 curves in yellow, as he maintained an advantage of fifteen seconds over Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) following stage 18 of the Tour de France.
It’ll be Voeckler’s 20th day in the yellow jersey in his career, as he matches the ten days of glory he already had in 2004. In the past twenty years, only three riders have spent more days in yellow than Voeckler: Lance Armstrong (83), Miguel Indurain (60) and Fabian Cancellara (21). Alberto Contador has worn yellow on 17 occasions, while the all-time list is led by Eddy Merckx (111).
“I saw that Andy attacked very early,” Voeckler commented at the finish at the top of the Galibier. “I didn’t even try to follow him. The previous days in the hills, I’ve tried to react to some accelerations and it wasn’t a good thing to do. Today, I decided to follow Cadel Evans. He was very strong. He’s the favourite for the final victory.”
Voeckler admitted that he had suffered like hell in the last 300 metres of the stage, as he strained to preserve his lead. “I lacked oxygen, it was hard for me to recover, my legs hurt badly,” he said. “On three occasions, I lost some seconds but from different riders, that’s why I’m still in yellow. I wasn’t aware of the time gaps when I was climbing the Galibier. I got to know at the top that I was three minutes behind Schleck with 3km to go. It was my goal to keep the jersey today but it didn’t depend on me but also on what the other riders were doing.”
Voeckler added that he wasn’t emotional about his exploit because he was thinking just about the suffering. “I was focused, that’s all,” he commented. “I had to be attentive to the wind and to the spectators who wanted to touch me. They hit my handlebars. I suffered but I followed the favourites. To keep the yellow jersey was beyond my expectations at Luz-Ardiden, then again at the Plateau de Beille, and now here at the Galibier. I’m not the kind of guy to congratulate myself. I do my job. I give everything. I can’t guarantee anything else to the fans other than the fact that I’m fighting. The suffering is enormous.”
Voeckler promised to fight again at l’Alpe d’Huez. “But everyone knows that Andy Schleck is a better climber than me,” he noted. “His form looks better and better. I don’t want to think about what’s going to happen tomorrow. I only want to take a rest.”