Stage 15 stage-winner Thomas Voeckler admitted that he had been on the verge of quitting the race when stomach problems that affected him through the Alps reached their worst point in Gap. It was, he said, the experience gained through participating in 12 major tours that enabled him to continue. With that experience has come the knowledge that his fortunes could change and that better form would come.
Voeckler's form started to come back as the race headed into the Massif Central. He almost made it across to Alexandre Vinokourov on the final hill before the drop into Revel two days ago. Today, the French champion's jersey looked like the one to watch when he got into a break of 10 riders 87km out from Luchon.
"I've had some really bad moments during this Tour. Everyone will have seen me at the back of the peloton on many occasions. But in the last two or three days I've felt better. When I got into the break today I had Sébastien Turgot with me, a rider who's in his first Tour de France. He's not a climber at all, but he's a great sprinter and has finished 6th in three bunch sprints. He worked really hard to make sure the break got clear," said Voeckler, who made his decisive move on the final climb of another tough stage run in baking conditions.
"I know the Port de Balès very well from the Route du Sud. I was looking at [Sergei] Ivanov , [Johan] Van Summeren and [Alessandro] Ballan and I knew that they would be watching me because I was the best climber. I waited until the steepest sections of the climb and went for it. From there on the fans gave me massive encouragement," he said.
Yellow jersey for 10 days in 2004 and a stage-winner last year, Voeckler described having a different feeling to that success in Perpignan. "That was special because I had gone for a lot of years without ever winning a stage, and it came as kind of a relief for me. This year I've felt proud to have won a stage in the French champion's jersey, and on a mountain stage as well."
Voeckler also pushed the profile of his Bbox team, who have still to announce a new backer for next year. "[Bbox team boss] Jean-René [Bernaudeau] is still looking for a new partner for this set-up that also includes the Vendée U development team and a structure that brings through turns kids into riders just as it did me. We've got a good team spirit here and I hope that we can keep the structure together with most of them if a new partner is confirmed.
"I think if they look at the season we've had away from the Tour de France as well they would see that we're not a bad team to get behind with successes in Paris-Nice, the Critérium International, the Giro d'Italia, the Dauphiné, some of the tough races during the Classics period, as well as the French road and time trial championships."
Asked why French rider were performing so well this year, Voeckler's win being the fifth of the race, the Bbox rider responded: "I can't really explain but I think the course may suit us as there are lots of difficult stages, but they are not so difficult at the end that there's a big battle for the yellow jersey, and that gives other riders some openings."
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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).