Tommy Voeckler: If Alpe d'Huez isn't 'The Pogačar Show' then it's over for him

French legend says "mystical" climb is "in the head, not only in the legs"

Tommy Voeckler
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Thursday's Tour de France stage to Alpe d'Huez might be last chance saloon for Tadej Pogačar, according to four-time Tour de France stage winner Tommy Voeckler.

Speaking on Wednesday, ahead of a crucial stage 12, the French legend said: "I think we will have the Pogačar show. If there's no Pogačar show, I think it's over for him. If he doesn't come back tomorrow, he will have lost the Tour. Not that if he doesn't take the jersey, but if he is not good."

On stage 11, UAE Team Emirates' Pogačar lost almost three minutes to Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) on the Col du Granon, gravely harming his chances to win a third-consecutive Tour. He lost the yellow jersey in the process, and now trails Vingegaard by 2-22.

Thursday's stage, however, brings the excitement of the Alpe d'Huez, the most famous climb in cycling, one that brings fans from all over the world to just stand on the 21 bends. Voeckler rode it five times in 15 Tours de France, so has experienced the arena more times than most.

However, for the Frenchman, it is a relatively easy climb for the peloton to tackle.

"For me, it's not a difficult climb, it's a symbolic climb," Voeckler said. "But it's not so hard. The history makes this climb very famous, but the climb is not so hard, because you start it, it's a bit difficult, but with the different turns it can be one or two per cent [gradient]. It's more the history, rather than the difficulty of the climb."

It is not the Alpe that should cause mayhem in the bunch, but the previous ascents of the Col du Galbier and the Croix de Fer in the run-up. The parcours is an exact replica of the one raced in 1986 on the famous day when Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault crossed the line together.

"The Alpe d'Huez is famous because of Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault of course," Voeckler said. "French people were waiting for so long after Hinault and Pierre Rolland, and then after that we had [Christophe] Riblon and [Thibaut] Pinot. It's a moment each two or three years which people come from all around the world for. People spend several days there, and that makes it mystical."

The mystical climb comes at a key point in this year's Tour. It also will be the first time the race has gone up it since fans have been allowed back to the roadside in the thousands, which will have a big impact on how it is ridden, and how the riders experience it.

"It depends the place you are in the race," Voeckler said, when asked to explain the atmosphere. "If you are in front you have to be very focused on the public, with all the people on the side, because they don't care, they just want to be there. Someone will just want to be on TV, and it's very dangerous for riders. 

"It's not so hard, the speed is high, and the TV motorbike is not able to have enough distance in front of you. You have to stay focused to pull on the brakes if necessary. It's in the head, not only in the legs.

"All the team managers will say to their riders be careful, it is not like the other climbs, there are people who are drunk."

Thursday also happens to be Bastille Day, 14 July, Quatorze-Juillet to the French; the day France celebrates the beginning of its revolution which has brought it to the Fifth Republic today. However, Voeckler is very pragmatic on the idea of things being different because it's France's national day of celebration.

"If you are a French rider and you are more motivated on Bastille Day, the thing is that you're not motivated enough on the other days," Voeckler said. "For the public, for the media, it's different, but for the riders, you must take it as any other stage."

For Vingegaard and Pogačar, two riders who have never experienced the chaos of the Alpe before, it could be a dramatic day; it will certainly be a noisy day. 21 bends of madness await.

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