Voeckler surprised to keep Tour de France lead

Thomas Voeckler surprised everyone, including himself, by keeping the lead in the Tour de France at the top of Luz-Ardiden on stage 12. Twenty four hours earlier, he was convinced that he wouldn't be able to do so.

"For me, it's a surprise but a nice surprise," Voeckler said after finishing the stage to hold 1:49 over the new runner up, Fränk Schleck. "This stage will not be without consequences. I might pay for the efforts I've produced today. I'm really surprised to still be up there. When the favourites attack, I don't usually manage to follow them."

Voeckler's lead is in fact due to the lack of attacks in the group of the favourites where he and his teammate Pierre Rolland worked well to maintain a steady pace and discourage other riders to change the rhythm of his group, which was reduced to ten riders.

"The eight remaining riders from Europcar have been useful today," said Voeckler who still regrets not having his good friend Christophe Kern at his side. The French champion for time trial finished sixth in the Dauphiné. Had he not been forced to quit the Tour after five days due to tendinitis, he would have been a great help in the mountains. "I must give a special mention to Pierre Rolland who has done a huge amount of work in the final climb," Voeckler said.

"Sometimes I tend to underestimate myself, but I'm not exactly a beginner in the Grand Tours. In 2004, I was told that the yellow jersey gives wings and it's true. If it's to finish 20th in a stage, I can't reach the same level of suffering. But in the Giro d'Italia in 2009 and 2010, I wasn't far from the top ten of some mountain stages when we had to use gears like 39x27 for climbing."

Without any possibility of a good GC, Voeckler finished 20th at Asolo at the bottom of the Monte Grappa, 22nd at Aprica after the Mortirolo and 12th at the Passo Tonale following the ascent of the Gavia at the Giro d'Italia last year.

"I need the right circumstances to climb well," he explained. "Since the start of the stage, I felt that I had good legs. I knew that it would be a very difficult day. I was honest when I said that I expected to lose the yellow jersey, but I also said that I would give everything to keep it. Maybe I didn't expect my team to be so efficient. I'm even more proud of my team than I am of myself today."

Voeckler was on the edge of signing with Cofidis at the end of September, as team manager Jean-René Bernaudeau had failed to find a new sponsor to take over from Bouygues Telecom on time, but the UCI gave the permission to extend the deadline to deliver a sponsorship agreement by three days, and his key rider was faithful till the very last minute. The deal with Europcar took place and the team was saved.

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