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Voeckler warns of difficulties in Brittany at 2011 Tour de France

Thomas Voeckler (Bbox-Bouygues Telecom) has warned that the opening days of the Tour de France in the Vendée and Brittany could pose significant problems to the overall contenders. The Frenchman also admitted that his success at the Tour in recent years makes it more difficult for him to try and win stages or enjoy a spell in the yellow jersey.

“I think the teams who are thinking about the overall classification will arrive the Tuesday or Wednesday before the race and go to
Brittany to reconnoitre the stages there,” Voeckler said after the presentation in Paris on Tuesday. “They’re very exposed to the wind and could be dangerous.”

Stage 4 from Lorient to Mûr-de-Bretagne and stage 5 to Cap Fréhel in the Côtes-du-Nord department are the two stages that Voeckler singled out as boasting particular difficulties in the opening week. The stage to Cap Fréhel finishes on the peninsula itself, where wind could wreak havoc in the finale.

Voeckler rose to international prominence at the 2004 Tour, when he wore the yellow jersey for ten days and put up fierce resistance to Lance Armstrong’s ineluctable advance in the Pyrenees. However, after winning stages in both 2009 and 2010, Voeckler realises that he is very much a marked man at La Grande Boucle and will not be given too much leeway when he goes up the road.

“The yellow jersey isn’t an objective,” Voeckler said. “Like every rider, I have a possibility and it would be great to wear it again like in 2004, but now the circumstances are a bit more difficult for me.

“I have less freedom to escape and take the jersey than I had 6 or 7 years ago when I wasn’t as well known. The yellow jersey is a dream but one that is difficult to realise.”

Like many others at the Palais de Congrès on Tuesday, Voeckler saw a Tour route tailor-made for Andy Schleck. “Looking at the profile, I think Andy Schleck is the favourite for the overall classification,” he said. “I think it’s a good Tour for Andy because there are fewer time trials.”

Voeckler’s prediction saw him questioned immediately on the grand absentee from Tuesday’s Tour presentation, Alberto Contador. The Spaniard is awaiting a verdict on his adverse analytical finding for Clenbuterol at this year’s Tour, but regardless of the outcome, Voeckler is confident that cycling is beginning to change for the better.

“In the Contador affair, if it’s established that he cheated, then of course sanctions are necessary,” Voeckler said. “Every year we talk of the problems in professional cycling. But things are getting better and better, the controls are more and more effective. There is a majority of riders doing their job in an honest way.”

The French champion also insisted that his passion for cycling was still intact, in spite of the difficulties the sport has faced during his professional career. “I’m not discouraged by this affair,” he said. “If I was, I’d already have been discouraged by all the other ones.

“I think everybody now is pulling in the same direction in the fight against doping now. The effectiveness of the controls is good for the credibility of cycling.”

Voeckler’s recent decision to stay with Jean-René Bernaudeau’s team for 2011 was crucial in securing Europcar as a last-minute replacement sponsor and ultimately saved the team, but he was keen to downplay his actions. Instead, he simply spoke of his continued passion for cycling, in spite of its many problems.

“I have the fortune to make my living out of cycling and I appreciate that’s not the case for everybody,” Voeckler said. “There are people who have to get up at 5am and work 40 hours a week and do something they don’t really love, so I’m lucky.”

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Barry Ryan

Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.