There was minor controversy towards the end of stage three of the Tour de France on Monday when Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie) was awarded the award for most combative rider ahead of solo breakaway rider Armindo Fonseca (Fortuneo-Vital Concept).
Remarkably it was only the second time that the ultra-attacking Voeckler has won the prize in his career, along with stage four in 2013, but did he really deserve it this time round?
According to the jury of the combativity award, which comprises former rider Laurent Jalabert, two French journalists and course director Thierry Gouvenou, Voeckler’s amble up to join Fonseca with around 60km to go showed enough “punch” to win the award.
“We could have Armindo Fonseca but the jury found that there was not enough work in his escape and that he had not put enough punch,” said Gouvenou.
“He was traveling at 34 kph ahead of the peloton and it did not deserve the Antargaz Combativity Prize. But we like the against-attack system, a rider out to recover the breakaway, gives maximum and puts the pace to go for the stage win.
“It is what we wanted to reward. It is not enough to attack first 230 kilometers from the finish to get the award, you must also set the pace and set the intensity.”
Highlights of stage three of the Tour de France
It will have been a bit of a kick in the balls at the time for Fonseca to hear that Voeckler had been given the prize, but then to hear from a race director that he hadn’t put in enough effort to be deemed as ‘attacking’?
Let’s give Fonseca his dues, he was the only one who wanted to actually attack from the start of the second longest stage in this year’s race. Even when he realised that no-one was going to join him, he didn’t give up and opened up a 10 minute lead over the peloton.
Behind him, the bunch simply ambled along at 33kph, having a laugh with each other and treating it like a club run. Up front, Fonseca realised that he wasn’t going to be caught any time soon he eased off the gas.
Voeckler was one of the riders at the head of the peloton for much of the day as it meandered through the French countryside. In fact, he was one of the ones larking about for some of the time as Fonseca put his nose in the wind all day.
When Voeckler made the move that was deemed the most attacking of the day, he waved his hand and asked if anyone minded him going off up the road. It wasn’t as if he caught them unaware with a daring attack, he simply rode off and waved goodbye at the same time.
Catching Fonseca wasn’t exactly tough. He was out there on his own, so there was no-one to help him conserve energy and work, so without using up much energy Voeckler eased himself to the front.
It smacks of favouritism, with the Antargaz jury simply wanting a better-known face than Fonseca up on the podium representing their name. For a rider like Fonseca, winning this prize would have been a bit of welcome recognition, a €2,000 boost to the team’s coffers and a chance for the lesser-known teams to get on the podium.
Instead the jury went for the safe option and then rubbed salt in the wounds with some pretty unnecessary comments from Gouvenou – one of the men who designed such an uninspiring route for the peloton to travel down.