Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) has survived through the Pyrenees in the yellow jersey, just as he did in 2004. And this time he finished with the big favourites of the race who carefully marked each other, allowing Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) to win the stage.
Voeckler punched the air as he crossed the line, just as he did in 2004 when he managed to hold off Lance Armstrong.
“It’s difficult to compare with the equivalent stage seven years ago”, Voeckler commented after the finish. “I’ve managed to follow the favourites but I suffered a lot. I wasn’t interested in analysing the strength of each favourite. My goal was to save my yellow jersey but I thought it would be a question of a couple of seconds. I didn’t expect to finish with the favourites.”
Voeckler was convinced that he wouldn’t be able to stay at the top of the GC after the three tough Pyrenean stages.
“I’m really surprised. My hopes had grown in the last two days, I was less defeatist than before stage 12 to Luz Ardiden,” he said.
“When I saw how windy it was in the valley prior to climbing to the Plateau de Beille, I thought my chance would be to hide from the wind as much as I could. I was hoping that attacks by the favourites wouldn’t last too long because if they were prolonged, I wouldn’t have been able to follow. The race ended up being very favourable for me. The leaders neutralized each other after every acceleration and I was always able to breathe and get back on the wheels.”
Voeckler's performance bettered his result of 2004 when he finished 13th on stage 13 at Plateau de Beille. This time he finished seventh. Seven years ago, he crossed the line 4:42 behind Lance Armstrong, who out sprinted Ivan Basso. Voeckler hung onto the lead by just 22 seconds and punched his first in the air as if he had won the stage.
“I have probably improved since 2004”, Voeckler pointed out. “This year, I have the best legs of my career, but if I’d had the same legs as today in 2004, I still wouldn’t have been able to follow Armstrong and Basso.”
The main contenders rode two minutes slower than Armstrong did in 2004 and where three minutes slower than the record set by Marco Pantani.
“Since I turned pro in 2001, things are getting better and better in cycling,” Voeckler said, not afraid to speak his mind and hint that he thinks the sport is cleaner.
“In the past few years, I’ve learned not to pay attention to what the other riders are doing but I do think the people who run cycling are working in the right direction.”
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