Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) took all kinds of risks on the Pra Martino descent in stage 17 of the Tour de France and amazingly escaped injury despite overcooking a tight left hand corner and riding onto a car park. Voeckler conceded 27 seconds to his GC rivals and is just one day shy of equalling his epic ten-day stint in yellow at the 2004 Tour de France.
Voeckler's current experience might lead him to change his approach to upcoming seasons. Next year, he's likely to prepare for the Tour de France as an overall contender.
The Frenchman admitted that he almost didn't touch his bike during the week preceding the start in Vendée, as he became a dad for the second time three days before stage 1. He also realised during stage 17 that it's worth going to reconnoiter the crucial stages in advance. Before the Dauphiné, he told Cyclingnews that he wasn't a fan of training camps in the mountains but his new status as a GC contender has made him change his mind.
"I never thought I'd be able to ride for GC and be at this level in the third week of the Tour de France," Voeckler said. "I'll have to think about that in the future. Honestly, had I done a stage reco', I probably wouldn't have been so close to losing everything. I had watched the downhill of Pra Martino on video but it's not the same.
"I know that I cannot gain time on the race favourites uphill, so I absolutely wanted to ride downhill at the front," Voeckler continued. "But today, I wanted to go too fast. I went off road three times! On a downhill, if you make a mistake, it's difficult to find the right trajectory afterwards and I still tried but I should have just followed Cadel Evans, not [Alberto] Contador and [Samuel] Sanchez.
"Technically, I went above my capacities. I didn't take time to think of what I was doing, especially when I ended up in a car park. I closed my eyes, I jumped my front wheel over the sidewalk, I was still on my bike when I re-opened my eyes, so I turned back and I went on racing but my companions were gone."
Voeckler maintained an advantage of 1:18 on Evans and 3:15 on Contador. "I could have lost much more today," Voeckler said. "But it's part of my composition to try. I've been lucky. I've lost a bit of time but I could have lost a collarbone."
Voeckler faced questions about the absence of stage wins by French riders after 17 days of racing. "People are never happy," he said. "Last year, we got six stage victories and we were questioned why we were nowhere on GC, this year it's the opposite.
"There are different ways to look at how we're racing. The other guys from Europcar are fully focused on the defence of my yellow jersey, so they're not chasing stages. Before the Tour, people seemed happy to see me winning races like the Four Days of Dunkirk, a stage at Paris-Nice and the Giro del Trentino or Cholet-Pays de Loire. I've not built my season around the Tour de France exclusively."
Europcar's team manager Jean-René Bernaudeau mentioned that Voeckler was the GC contender with the most number of racing days. With 57, he has done 13 more days than Contador who has completed the Giro d'Italia. "Thomas is likely to pay the price in the Alps," Bernaudeau said.