LUCHON, France (AFP) — A week after winning stage 10, thanks to a combination of strong legs and tactical nous, Thomas Voeckler was at it again on the Tour de France Wednesday.
The Europcar rider’s second stage win of this year’s edition and his fourth career Tour victory came topped with a sprinkling of daring and plenty of panache.
“It’s difficult to say, but it’s certainly one of my best ever victories,” said Voeckler after finishing the 197km 16th stage nearly two minutes ahead of closest challenger Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank).
With four major cols and 47.3km of climbing on the way to a downhill finish in Luchon, the stage was set to host one of the final battles for control of the race.
It proved fatal to Cadel Evans’ title defense. But Voeckler stole the show.
The Frenchman was one of 38 determined riders who broke free of the peloton early. After a 16.4km climb he led them in commanding fashion over the Col d’Aubisque.
A number of attacks on the 19km climb to the summit of the Tourmalet then split a reduced lead group further, with Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) taking Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) and Dutchman Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) with him when he attacked.
With Kessiakoff in possession of the King of the Mountains’ polka-dot jersey, alarm bells began ringing for Voeckler.
“This morning the aim was to get points for the polka-dot jersey. I had four mountain passes to climb, and for me it was like four races,” he said.
“I didn’t bother previewing this stage, but I’ve been doing these climbs since I was 19 years old.”
At the summit, Voeckler took another 25 points for the day’s second hors categorie climb, cresting with Brice Feillu (Saur-Sojasun) and leaving Martin, Kessiakoff and Sorensen just over a minute behind.
As Bradley Wiggins’ Sky team began to turn the screw behind them in a bid to drop their own rivals, Voeckler was getting ideas of his own.
After discussions with Feillu, the pair worked together on the 12.4km ascent of the Col d’Aspin to keep their chasers at bay, Voeckler taking 10 points at the summit.
But only 2km into the 9.5 km climb to the summit of the Peyresourde, Voeckler danced away on the pedals and left Feillu on his own.
Sorensen overtook Feillu, but the grimacing Dane would never close the gap on Voeckler, finishing 1:40 in arrears.
Voeckler’s efforts also brought him the polka-dot jersey, which he took by four points over Kessiakoff.
Having placed an impressive fourth overall in 2011, Voeckler knows his lowly placing this year has given him some freedom.
“I lost a lot of time in the first week, and that has given me the opportunity to attack unhindered,” said Voeckler, who is 37 minutes behind Wiggins.
“I’m very proud of what I did today. It’s the kind of cycling I like, and the kind of attack I grew up watching on the television when I was young.
“Now I have to try and recover as much as possible, with a really long massage, and then try and do it all again tomorrow.”
Thursday’s 17th stage is the last in the mountains.