Defending champion Thomas Voeckler talks about his final appearance in the Tour de Yorkshire, and why the race is unique on the calendar

Thomas Voeckler says that he is relishing the chance to defend his title in the 2017 Tour de Yorkshire, starting on Friday, April 28 – an event which he describes as unique.

It’s the veteran Frenchman’s last appearance in the British three-day race as he will retire after a 15th and final start in the Tour de France in July. The 37-year-old counts four stage wins and the king of the mountains title in the Tour among his impressive palmares.

Voeckler’s attacking racing style has won him many fans over the years, and he heads up a solid Direct Energie team going into the Tour de Yorkshire.

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“My shape isn’t so bad. I’m not 100 per cent in terms of my condition but I have the experience of this race,” said Voeckler.

“I know the different roads. My goal is to take pleasure in my last year as a professional in the peloton.

“I’m really motivated but I also know how difficult it is to ride at the front of this race. Riding the Tour de Yorkshire, you cannot compare to any other race.”

Thomas Voeckler wins Tour de Yorkshire 2016 stage three. Photo: Andy Jones

Voeckler attributes the Tour de Yorkshire’s unique atmosphere to the huge support from local fans, the testing route and stunning scenery.

“Because the country is different, the atmosphere is different and the crowd, we riders feel the people are really concerned about the race,” said Voeckler.

“They are happy to see us race over here. This makes the race a little bit different compared to the others I do all year in other countries.

“It’s special to be in my last season as a professional. Every race I take part in, I know it’s the last time I will take part as a rider. So it’s special but I cannot think about it all the time because I have to focus on the sport.”

Prior to the start of the race, Voeckler appeared at Richmond Hill Primary School to officially present the 5,000th bike to the Yorkshire Bank Bike Library scheme. This initiative allows young people with no bike access to a range of bicycles, which are loaned out, much in the same way as a library book.

The scheme started after Yorkshire hosted the Grand Départ of the 2014 Tour de France, and has so far been used by 36,000 children.

“This is something for the kids because not all parents can afford to buy a bike for their kids, and I’m really impressed by 36,000 kids riding bikes thanks to the Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries, it’s a really great project and I think it’s a really good thing,” said Voeckler.

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“For young children riding a bike should be a right. It is like swimming, everybody should be able to ride a bike.”

The 2017 Tour de Yorkshire starts in Bridlington on Friday, April 28, and concludes in Fox Valley, Sheffield, on Sunday, April 30.

Voeckler was speaking at Richmond Hill Primary School, a Yorkshire Bank Bike Library in Leeds. For more information on Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries please visit www.ybonline.co.uk/bikelibraries.

Reporting by Paul Eddison, Sportsbeat