Thomas Voeckler may not be challenging for the yellow jersey this year, but the little Frenchman still knows how to ignite the Tour de France.
Europcar’s captain is both loved and hated in the peloton, but there’s no doubting the adulation the fans have for him. But it wasn’t the screams from the road side that spurred him on up the long drag to the finish.
Voeckler was spurred on instead by a little voice in his ear. For once he was wearing an ear piece and was getting instructions from his car behind. The instructions were spot on. The five-man group that Voeckler was in had splintered on the run in as Dries Devenyns attacked from two kilometres out and all of them were riding on their wits.
First Jens Voigt went after Devenyns, then Luis Leon Sanchez. As the action unfolded on the screen it seemed to be interminably drawn out. Devenyns looked to be clear, then Voigt was closing, then he wasn’t and all the time the finish line wasn’t coming in to sight.
Out of nowhere Voeckler flew up behind Voigt, took a breather and jumped past to go in pursuit of Devenyns who had miss-judged his effort and had started to tie-up badly. The drag to the line kept going and each rider looked as if they were going nowhere.
When it finally came in to view, Voeckler had a clear gap, but it was over Michele Scarponi who’d dragged himself up to the line. The whole scenario was so slow it was painful to watch. Voigt managed to hold on to third, Sanchez – who would have been a favourite had it been a group sprint – fourth and Devenyns fifth, losing 30 seconds in the last few hundred metres.
Voeckler was understandably overjoyed. The Frenchman had been suffering from tendonitis in the build up to the Tour, and never looked good all day (he rarely looks good though). On the spectacular climb of the Grand Colombier – being used for the first time in the Tour – he gurned his way up, pulling all manor of comical faces and squirming all over his bike.
Although the rest of the small group looked smoother, they let Voeckler do a lot of the work. But it wasn’t enough to dull his speed.
Behind that group, that had contained 23 riders (including Briton’s David Millar and Stephen Cummings) at the bottom of the Grand Colombier, the favourites were largely content to ride together.
Edvald Boasson Hagen and Richie Porte set the pace for Sky on the 17.5km climb with Cadel Evans and the other challengers sitting happily in the bunch behind. Jurgen Van den Broeck attacked several times but each time got reeled back in.
The threat actually came on the descent. Vincenzo Nibali threw caution to the wind and attacked on the tight and twisty roads, gambling on Sky and Wiggins letting him go. Wiggins isn’t a bad descender, but he doesn’t have the chutzpah to stay with Nibali riding on the limit.
Neither did he need to. With Porte and Chris Froome still with him and another seven kilometre climb to come, there was no panic. The only problem was when Michael Rogers punctured when coming in to a hairpin bend and went straight on, right across Wiggins’s line.
Rogers never saw the Wiggins group again, which would have been a problem had Richie Porte not been able to do the work of two men. The little Tasmanian Devil lead all the way up the Col de Richemond, reeled in Nibali and prevented anyone else from attacking. Over the top Van den Broeck went again and on the final 20km descent caught the riders dropped from the original break.
But for all that effort he gained just 32 seconds. Unfortunately for the Belgian he has little choice. He started the day over five minutes down and knows he’ll lose more time in the final time trial. Chipping away at the riders ahead of him on the mountain stages is his only chance.
Evans looked as if he was biding his time today. His sprint to the finish line was the only time he put in an effort. The chances were he was saving his energy for tomorrow. What might be alarming the Australian is that he was isolated in the lead group. Tejay Van Garderen, the next best climber in BMC, was dropped when the group was riding tempo and was never in a position to help. If Evans is going to mount a challenge for yellow over the next two days in the mountains, he’s going to have to do it all by himself.
Tour de France 2012, stage ten. Macon – Bellegarde-sur-Valserine 194.5km
1. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar in 4h 46′ 26″
2. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre- ISD at 3 sec
3. Jens Voigt (Ger) Radioshack- Nissan at 7 sec
4. Luis-Leon Sanchez (Spa) Rabobank at 23 sec
5. Dries Devenyns (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step at 30 sec
6. Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ-Bigmat at 2-44
7. Egoi Martinez (Spa) Euskatel- Euskadi
8. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar
9. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol all at st
10. Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz) Astana 2-52
13. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky at 3-16
18. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky at st
52. Stephen Cummings (GBr) BMC Racing 11-41
59. David Millar (GBr) Garmin-Sharp 15-04
162. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Sky at 31-55
Overall classification after stage ten
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky 43h 59′ 02″
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing at 1-53
3. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 2-07
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 2-23
5. Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha 3-02
6. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Radioshack-Nissan at 3-19
7. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Radioshack-Nissan at 4-23
8. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol at 4-48
9. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale at 5-29
10. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing at 5-31
Bradley Wiggins and Sky defended the Brit’s overall advantage
Voeckler celebrates 2012 Tour success
Tour de France 2012: Latest news
Tour de France 2012: Teams, riders, start list
Tour de France 2012: Stage reports
Tour de France 2012: Comment, analysis, blogs
Tour de France 2012: Photo galleries
Tour de France 2012: Live text coverage
Tour de France 2012: Related links