Britain may still be awaiting its first stage winner at the Tour de Yorkshire after the two editions of the race, but there was little doubt that lots of the fans watching the final day into Scarborough got the winner they wanted in the shape of France's Thomas Voeckler.
Having received the acclaim of the crowds packed onto the natural amphitheatre formed by the grassy banks alongside the finishing straight in Scarborough, Voeckler reflected on his popularity and how he boosted it still further by finishing on the top step of the podium.
He revealed he had first become aware of his popularity among British fans during last year's race in Yorkshire. "It almost made me feel a little uneasy because sometimes I was getting more encouragement than the British riders. I was really keen to get back here for that reason," he confessed.
"I'm quite a popular rider in lots of places, but I was absolutely amazed with the support I had here. It was like being on a Tour de France stage in my home region of the Vendée. I'm not saying that for effect. It's the honest truth. To be in another country and hear children shouting my name and seeing banners encouraging me along the road was really touching, and it's the first time I've really experienced that in 16 years as a pro."
Voeckler wasn't revealing any trade secrets when he said that his initial look at the road book suggested the race would be decided on the final day. More interesting, though, was the 36-year-old Direct Énergie rider's approach to this key stage.
"Add in the weather, with the wind and rain, and the element of risk that added, as well as the way those elements increase the tension, and it was certainly a difficult stage to control," said Voeckler. "If I'd been on the Sky team today I'm fairly sure that I wouldn't have won. Their team was very strong, but it's very difficult to control things on a course like that.
"With the wind and the numbers that Sky had, it was clear that the key thing was not to attack too soon. I'm someone who likes to attack a lot and today I had to rein myself in," he added. "You need to be able to keep your cool and having the experience of the final four kilometres from last year helped as well."
The addition of the Oliver's Mount climb half a dozen kilometres from the finish meant this year's finale was a little different to last year's, but Voeckler admitted he did have a good idea of what was in store. "I hadn't done a recce of the climb, but Jimmy Engoulvent, our DS, had taken some pictures of it so I knew pretty much what to expect. I didn't have the legs to make a difference on the climbs, but I felt that I was pretty strong on the flat," he said.
Voeckler revealed that once he had managed to get across to Sky's Nicolas Roche on the descent off Oliver's Mount his primary concern was not to allow the three riders chasing behind to make the junction as well. Having achieved that as the pair came into the final 500 metres with a decisive gap, the Frenchman said he was still far from sure he would win.
"I wasn't confident that I would beat him. I knew that I had a chance, but Nicolas Roche is pretty fast in a sprint. The good thing was that we both knew that other riders like Anthony Turgis were fast too. So instead of playing around with each other in the last kilometre I said to Nicolas, ‘OK, let's ride together and we'll see in the sprint.' But I wasn't at all sure I'd win because normally he's faster than me," he said.
He added that Cofidis's Turgis, who finished up third overall, has made quite an impression on him. "He's strong and was among the favourites for the overall victory. I noticed even last year that he was a rider to watch. He's one of the new generation like Lilian Calmejane on our team who aren't afraid and don't have complexes when it comes to competing at this level, and that's good," he said.
Having wrapped up his second stage race victory of the season after Tour La Provence in February, Voeckler said his next goal will be to get some rest. "I think I'm the rider who's completed the highest number of race days in the international peloton since the start of the season, with 42 days. So it's time to take a bit of a breather.
"Even though I'd like to compete in the Four Days of Dunkirk, I'm going to rest a bit and then I'll do the Tour of Belgium, the Critérium du Dauphiné, the Route du Sud, the French Championships and the Tour de France, to which our team has been very kindly invited by the race organisation."
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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