Thomas Voeckler: 'We wanted to attack earlier than everyone else at Worlds so they would think we were idiots'

French boss happily accepts fine for coaching Julian Alaphilippe when it wasn't permitted

Benoit Cosnefroy attacks at the 2021 Road World Championships
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Thomas Voeckler has said the French team's aggressive approach to the World Championships men's road race on Sunday was to make other teams think they were 'idiots'.

The French ultimately proved victorious after Julian Alaphilippe soloed away within 20km to go following several attempts, but their attacking strategy began with over 180km remaining in the brutal 268.3km race in Flanders.

>>> Julian Alaphilippe solos to heroic defence in men's 2021 World Championships road race

Benoît Cosnefroy was the first to create a move that included Belgium's Remco Evenepoel, but the race was peppered with attacks from the likes of Anthony Turgis, Valentin Madouas, and Arnaud Démare, decimating the peloton as Belgium attempted to control what was turning into a frantic race.

French coach Voeckler says the team's strategy was more about setting up the perfect situation for their star rider Alaphilippe, rather than focussing on preventing Belgian favourite Wout van Aert from securing victory in his homeland.

The French attacks ultimately wittled down the front group enough to give Alaphilippe the opportunity to escape, with Van Aert unable to respond to the defending champion.

"The Belgians were rivals like everyone else," said Voeckler according to Het Nieuwsblad

“Our biggest mistake would have been to work out an anti-Van Aert or anti-Evenepoel plan. Some have done that and it hasn't worked. That's like putting four players on Kylian Mbappe in football when you play against PSG. Then others will benefit from it.

“And we quickly saw that Van Aert was not 100 per cent. Plus, Jasper Stuyven was probably just as strong. I would like to pay tribute to the Belgian team here. They have managed to ride as one block, despite the many talents they have. There were doubts about that.”

Voeckler, 42, also said the team had planned to attack earlier than they did when Cosnefroy went away at the 180km remaining mark, but their strategy was hampered by a badly timed puncture for Rémi Cavagna.

“We wanted to attack earlier than everyone else so they would think we were idiots, or crazy," Voeckler said.

"We knew it was going to be an attacking race and we wanted to get ahead of everyone so we didn't end up with too big a peloton in the local laps. It could have started even earlier for us, but Rémi Cavagna had to deal with a flat tyre. 

"We still wanted to be one step ahead of everyone and saw, for example, Benoît Cosnefroy and Arnaud Démare leave together.”

Thomas Voeckler celebrates at the Road World Championships 2021

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Voeckler didn't come away from the road race unscathed though, receiving a 500CHF fine as he guided his team to the rainbow jersey and a dislocated shoulder in the post-race celebrations.

With no race radios allowed, Alaphilippe was shown dropping off the leading group to talk to Voeckler in the team car with around 37km to go, something that resulted in a fine for the coach from commissaries. 

“At a certain moment Alaphilippe came to my car to ask if he should put on the sprint for Florian Sénéchal," Voeckler said.

"I then told him that he should not concern himself with that, that 'Séné' would solve it alone. Julian had to respond to attacks and race instinctively.

“Ah, what do I care that 500 euros? I saw that the TV bike had us in the picture but yes,” he added.

“What was not planned was Julian's solo 17 kilometers from the finish. Good thing he didn't listen to me. After that I had to see with my own eyes how Alaphilippe rode. So no race radio and I also turned off my WhatsApp. 

"I demanded complete silence in the car. When I saw at 2.5 kilometers from the finish that he was going to win, I again asked for total silence. But that was more out of superstition.”

Richard Windsor
Richard Windsor

Richard is digital editor of Cycling Weekly. Joining the team in 2013, Richard became editor of the website in 2014 and coordinates site content and strategy, leading the news team in coverage of the world's biggest races and working with the tech editor to deliver comprehensive buying guides, reviews, and the latest product news.


An occasional racer, Richard spends most of his time preparing for long-distance touring rides these days, or getting out to the Surrey Hills on the weekend on his Specialized Tarmac SL7 (with an obligatory pub stop of course).