France’s most popular racer set to bow out of racing when the Tour finishes on the Champs Élysées
Next week’s Étoile de Bessèges will mark the start of Thomas Voeckler’s 17th and final season as a professional.
Still widely regarded as his country’s most popular rider despite now playing a support role to Bryan Coquard at Direct Énergie, the 37-year-old Frenchman is set to retire when the Tour de France reaches the Champs-Élysées on 23 July.
But he’s not aiming on bowing out quietly, with the Tour de Yorkshire, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and, of course, the Tour de France on his hit list of targets.
“I’m really keen to get going, I’ve still got the same desire to race,” he told L’Equipe.
“But I’ve just got modest objectives: I fell in love with the Tour de Yorkshire two years ago and I would love to be in the thick of it there, as well as to show myself at Liège, even though I’ve no longer got the ability to play a part in the finale there.”
Voeckler is also hoping to have an impact at the Tour de France, even though he will once again be riding principally in the service of sprinter Coquard in what will be his 15th appearance in the race.
“If I can win a stage by proxy with him then that will suit me very well,” said Voeckler, who has four Tour stages to his credit and has worn the yellow jersey for 20 days.
Watch: The 2017 route of the Tour de Yorkshire
The French veteran admitted that he now finds it frustrating to see young talents being held back by their own lack of confidence or by teams focusing on getting results.
The result of this, according to Voeckler, is a lack of attack-minded riders in his own mould. “Sometimes I feel alone although I do see something of myself in [Ag2r’s] Alexis Gougeard. He’s a courageous rider,” he said.
Voeckler agreed that cycling has changed considerably since he joined the pro peloton in 2001, when doping was rife. Back then, there was no prospect of a French rider winning the Tour. Now, says Voeckler, it’s possible, with Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot the obvious hopes.
“They’ve got the means, they’ve got the opportunity and the public are expectant,’ said Voeckler. ‘It is feasible. Yes, I really believe that now it is.”
Asked how he would like fans to remember him as a racer, Voeckler replied: “As someone who had a nice career, as a battler… as someone who never undervalued himself but also never regarded himself as someone he wasn’t.”