Frenchman Thomas Voeckler is living the dream again, wearing the Tour de France’s yellow jersey for a second time after 2004.
“I am lucky to be here,” Voeckler said in a press conference, “and I know what it means to wear this yellow jersey.”
He took the yellow jersey in Chartres in 2004 thanks to Lance Armstrong. The American, then a five-time overall winner, held the yellow jersey that day after his US Postal team won the team time trial the previous day.
Armstrong let the escape gain enough time so that the workload would not fall completely on this team-mate’s shoulders. Voeckler won the jersey by 9-35 minutes over Armstrong and kept it for 10 stages.
On the Tour’s first of two rest days today, team Europcar’s Voeckler leads the race by 1-49 minutes over Luis León Sánchez and 2-26 minutes over race favourite, Cadel Evans (BMC).
“I knew that if it happened again, I’d enjoy it more,” added Voeckler. “In 2004, I was very young and it was quite a surprise for me. They had let us go that day, it was completely different. Today, it was not a gift. I had to fight to get it.”
Voeckler formed part of a six-man escape yesterday that eventually whittled down to five as they raced to Saint Flour.
Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha was part of the escape, but he and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) crashed after being knocked aside by a passing France 2 TV car. Voeckler went ahead with eventual stage winner Luis-Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) and Sandy Casar (FDJ), anxious to gain time on the peloton behind.
A crash earlier in the race, with 106 kilometres to race, slowed the peloton and allowed Voeckler his chance. Many riders were involved and two classification favourites, Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and Jurgen Van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), abandoned with fractures.
“I only started to think of the yellow jersey,” said Voeckler, “when we had up to seven minutes and I had heard of the crashes behind.”
He was upset that a car had hit Flecha and Hoogerland and wanted them with him since he was racing for time. Had they crashed earlier in the 208-kilometre stage, he said, his group would have waited.
Sky was positioned to take a second stage win yesterday with Flecha. It enjoyed its first taste of Tour success with Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen on Thursday. One day later, Bradley Wiggins abandoned with a fractured collarbone and yesterday, a car ruined Flecha’s chances.
“He’s got a lot of whiplash,” Sky’s principal, David Brailsford said in a press release. “A bit like being in a car crash really.”
Flecha is expected to start tomorrow’s 10th leg to Carmaux. Voeckler will wear the yellow jersey and will likely hold on to it until Thursday, when race faces the Pyrenean mountains.
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