Seeing Thomas Voeckler's name at the very bottom of a stage result would be very surprising most days. But the Frenchman was all smiles as he rolled in more than two minutes down on winner Sacha Modolo to complete the opening stage of the Volta ao Algarve in Albufeira.
Exactly five weeks after the training ride crash that left him with a broken collarbone prior to the Tour Down Under, Voeckler came to Portugal aiming to ease himself back into racing. Europcar have put no pressure on him to perform or even help out his teammates during the five-day race. Consequently, claiming 158th place was job done for the Frenchman.
"It was a very good day and very good weather which is nice," Voeckler told Cyclingnews at the stage 1 finish. "It's really good for me to be here and be able to get a bit of form after being injured in Australia."
Voeckler had already been sitting at the back of the pack when the peloton swept down the hill and through the very high-speed finish outside Albufeira's town hall for the first time. He looked comfortable but was clearly determined to keep a distance from the riders barrelling along at the front of the bunch with the three-man breakaway very much in their sights.
"For me, the objective I came here with has been achieved," he said. "I wanted to get some kilometres under my belt and for my shoulder to be fine as well. I didn't have any issues at all with the shoulder. It's just the legs that are the problem now. I've got to sort them out next."
Thursday's second stage running 196km through some very lumpy territory between Lagoa and Monchique will provide a sterner test. But it is exactly the kind of day the Frenchman needs as he builds towards the Ardennes Classics, which are now his first target in an already disrupted season.
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