Staying true

An interview with Thomas Voeckler, August 4, 2004

The Tour de France may be over, but the post-Tour criteriums continue to give the public a glimpse of their summer heroes long after festivities on the Champs Elysées come to a close. Stéphanie Langlais caught up with Voeckler for Cyclingnews after a rainy criterium in Marcolès, France to see how France's new champion is recovering from it all.

France's Thomas Voeckler isn't new to cycling, but this year he made his presence known with a string of high profile results. A stage win in the Route du Sud on his birthday in June was followed by victory in the French national championships barely a week later. As if riding the Tour de France in his country's national jersey weren't enough, Voeckler inserted himself in the winning break on a rainy stage five and handily traded the tricolore for the yellow jersey of Tour leader.

As many of the top Tour favourites faded into obscurity, Voeckler became one of the great stories of this year's race, hanging onto his jersey longer than many, himself included, would have expected. The 25 year old eventually had to hand the jersey back to Lance Armstrong after stage 15 to Villard-de-Lans, but his work was done and Voeckler became a name known and respected around the world. Though he couldn't quite cling to his consolation prize of the white jersey for best young rider, "Ti" Voeckler still established himself as France's new darling. His attitude toward modesty and hard work may not have changed, but there's no denying Voeckler's stature has.

Has your life changed since the Tour?

I haven't been home much! Right now I'm a little overwhelmed by what's happened, but I'm still the same person. I know this could end very quickly.

The Tour is over and I need to think about getting other results. But it's true that at home, things have changed a bit. On the window of the tabac in Mouilleron-le-Captif (Voeckler's town in the Vendée region of France) there's a big picture of me, and at the entrance to the town there's a banner thanking me!

I get a lot of support from the public, which is really nice. But in the team, nothing's changed. On the bike or at the dinner table, I'm the same guy I was before. We all still get along very well, and nobody pays attention to appearances. That helps to keep our feet on the ground.

How would you describe your daily life?

I would say at the same time on the fringe and traditional. I don't keep the same hours as everybody, I don't party, and I have to follow a diet. I also have a lot of free time, but I spend most of that resting. After four or five hours of training, it's out of the question to go shopping for three hours. But I'm used to all that. It's a lifestyle, and you get used to it quickly when you're a junior and also an amateur. I live with certain restrictions, but I'm lucky to be living my dream, which isn't the case for most people. It's worth the sacrifices.

What are your hobbies?

Going to the beach! Just to see the ocean and work on my tan. I even go in the winter since the beach is just 40km from my house. Besides that, I have the same hobbies as everyone else, like going to the movies, but the beach is really my thing.

Does it help you living with two other cyclists?

Definitely. We help motivate each other. Even if we don't all ride at the same level, that doesn't change anything since we all have the same lifestyle and have the same way of looking at things. We understand each other. It wouldn't work (living together) if they weren't cyclists.

Do you enjoy being in the public eye?

If you're a cyclist, it's a bit for that reason, to be recognised and to sell yourself. We all need that, even if I've been a bit overwhelmed and sometimes it's a burden. I can't complain about the image the media have attached to me, even if they build me up a bit too much as a representative of the 'new wave' (in French cycling).

I'm nothing extraordinary, and it's not just young riders that count. I get a little uneasy with that, when they say I'm a spokesman. I'm not a little saint who always wants to do everything well. I'd rather they say that I'm following my own path.

Are you nervous for the future?

I don't have time to think about the future right now, I'm living at 100 an hour! That fact is, I want to keep racing as usual and giving it everything. I don't want people to only remember my ten days in yellow. I'm 25 years old, I've made progress since I turned professional, so why stop now? I love cycling and I really want to have as long a career as possible. At the same time, I can't say that I'll finish in the top 10 or top 15 of the Tour next year...

So in other words, you don't feel much pressure...

Well, yes, a little more than before. People will expect more from me and I hope I don't disappoint them. But above all, I want to stay true to myself. If I continue to grow like this, I'll have nothing to complain about. If I don't get more results... I'll make do.

What do you dream about now?

I don't have a dream. I want to continue to enjoy myself but I don't have a specific objective. I know that winning the Tour de France is impossible, I don't have a bigger motor than the rest. In which case, I'll take each season as it comes. It's not essential to always win. You're not necessarily happier with 90 victories than with none. My life was good before everything that happened this year, so no matter what happens, I won't be unhappy.

You don't have a favourite race?

Not really. Actually, I'm fascinated by the Belgian classics. Not one race in particular, but that type of race. On the other hand, I don't have the right body type, the right size to win. I can duke it out ok, but not as well as the Flahutes...

You're going to have another incredible experience, the Olympic Games...

Yes, that's going to be huge! I really want to honour my selection and show the colours of France. Physically, I'm ok. The (post-Tour) criteriums have helped me keep the rhythm. On the other hand, after the Olympics I'm not going to race at 100% since the end of the season is not really an objective for me. But I'll be active, since there's no reason to let the others down... Then, in October, I'll go back to Martinique.

You often talk about the need to surpass yourself, to push yourself to your limits. Is this the raison d'être of your profession?

We all feel the same suffering, we make a lot of sacrifices...

I ride on the principle that if you're not at 100% in a race, you might have regrets. I don't want to have regrets! Whatever the outcome, I can at least tell myself that I did everything I could.

You also say that you're introverted and not very sociable. Still, you give a completely different impression in public.

That's true... I don't really know how to explain it. I'm not very sociable, but that's been a bit easier lately. It depends on the day.

What did you learn from this Tour de France?

I learned I could be more sociable! No, seriously, I realised that I could handle three weeks of digging deep every day. I was surprised, and what's more, I never had a really bad day. If I never had the yellow jersey, I never would have discovered what I was capable of doing in the mountains. This Tour let me have more confidence in myself.

Will this experience change the way you train and race?

In a race, that depends. In stage races, I'll be marked a bit more. On the other hand, in training I'll keep working the same way and build up days of racing. I have a real weakness in the time trial, and I've never really made an effort to work on that. But doing specific training in March doesn't necessarily guarantee that it'll work in May.

With 100 days of racing each year, there isn't much room for specific training. Then again, with different training camps, I train pretty well in the mountains and that's been better every year. Overall, I'm riding well. I've had a linear progression so I'm not overanalysing it too much...

What were the repercussions after Joseba Beloki's departure from the team?

Our objectives changed since he had the potential to win the Tour de France. But if had been there, I wouldn't have had the chance to get into a breakaway in the first week... Personally, his departure neither pleased nor upset me. I hadn't even had the chance to race with him.

Was La Boulangère's success, without Beloki, a surprise?

For the general public, yes. But the people close to us knew what this team could do. We aren't newcomers and we have a lot of spirit. We understand our collective strength. This all came out at the right time, but we've already shown it on plenty of other occasions.

Do you know if the team has found a new sponsor?

I've heard good things, that it seems to be going well... I hope that it becomes clear soon, but until it's official it's best not to get carried away. When you live moments like we had during the Tour de France, amongst ourselves... You don't want that to stop.

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