Thomas Voeckler, Je m’excuse

Thomas Voeckler descending to the finish. Photo by Roberto Bettini for Cyclingnews

When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. I’ve whined about Thomas Voeckler on this site for years. After his yellow jersey escapade in the TdF many years ago he became the new Richard Virenque, the new golden boy of French cycling. That was my first problem with Thomas as I never liked RV, let me rephrase, I always hated RV, though he tried to redeem himself with his winning escape at Paris-Tours at the end of his career, the damage was already done. Mostly it was his awful finish-line salute and his constant polka-dot jumper winnings. And for some reason, Voeckler’s riding style rubbed me wrong; jersey open, bobbing out of the saddle, bike side to side. He was either at the back of the field or just off the front for the cameras. Harsh, yes, unjustified, yes, but there it was.

His old B-Box team was a group of opportunists; get in a break, get some tv publicity, maybe win the occasional race but they never rode as a team. Finally during last year’s Tour de France they did. For unknown reasons they appeared on the front, en mass, as the race approached the mountains.  They proceeded to put a lot of riders in a “spot of bother”. Both Voeckler and Pierrick Fedrigo won stages of that Tour and the French were finally doing themselves proud in their home tour. I do love the way Pierrick wins; a long break with other strong riders, no missed pulls, the peloton underestimates their speed, everyone in the break underestimates Pierrick’s speed and he coolly outsprints them. That’s the way it should be done.

While Fedrigo jumped ship to Francaise de Jeux, Voeckler hung with his teammates while a new sponsor, Europcar, was eventually found. Then somehow he started to win me over, wearing the French National Championship jersey, he started to ride like a real professional ass kicker. Maybe Europcar actually required their riders to get fit for the early season, something happened I can’t explain. 2011, Tour de Haut Var overall victory, a stage in the Tour Méditerranéen and then Paris-Nice 2011, he won stage 4 out-sprinting his fellow breakaway riders (perhaps Fedrigo had taught him something over the years). It was the final wet cold stage in Nice that really sealed the deal. It’s a hell of a stage; up the maritime alps, down to the Med, repeat and repeat. It’s no Champs-Élysées TdF ride: a yellow jersey leader can, and has lost Paris-Nice on this final stage.

The Cote d’Azure can be an ugly spot in the off-season; it had been raining enough that the roads were not as slippery as what the racers had been crashing on the previous day but it rained all day, making the twisty descents back down to sea level a test of descending bravura. Voeckler joined an early break of 11 riders and slowly they all dropped off but three, and on the descent of the Col d’Eze towards the finish line in Nice he dropped them and soloed in. Everyone on the podium looked on the verge of hypothermia, Tony Martin proved his hardman status by surviving the end of the race without teammates and Thomas Voeckler joined that club too. Attack the pointy end of the peloton, go hard enough to wear down most of the break and drop the rest on the wet, windswept descent to the sea. That’s a man. I sure would like to see some American win like that.

“I felt the bad weather was exhilarating”, the French champion said. “It pushed me to take some risks. When we dropped Carrara, who I knew was fast in a sprint, I was afraid of Ulissi because he didn’t wince at all and I didn’t know if he’s a good sprinter or not. I went on the front for the descent and I took more risks once Carrara was no longer on my wheel. I don’t like to take risks at every race I do, but when there is the possibility of a win around the corner, it’s worth it.”

For those who like to fantasize about being off the front on a wet descent, here he is winning the final stage of Paris-Nice.


Post Script: This post was written a while ago but fits in with the French accent of recent posts. Since Paris-Nice Thomas was seen showing his face in the front group in Flanders and  beat out Scarponi in a two-up sprint in a stage of the Giro Trentino.  TV went on to win Four Days of Dunkirk and very recently was off the front a lot in La Dauphine. In stage 7 he put on a descending display like I have not seen since Il Falco (Paolo SavoldelliFrank remembers Il Falco) . Voeckler descends like a demon and I really admire riders who can get through a corner like he can. I’ll add Cunego and Sagan to that group as the Tour de Swiss has just shown!



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67 Replies to “Thomas Voeckler, Je m’excuse”

  1. @Ron

    NYC seems to be the capital of people having really serious conversations while strolling down the sidewalk.

    And into the intersection against the light right into my path.


  2. Frank, never thought of finding a similarly sized PRO and copying his form and riding style. Good idea, oh wait, I’m stuck with either Tommy V or The Little Prince…TV climbs like a duck, not sure I know the criticism of Cunego’s form.

    xyxax – that too! I’ve actually been wondering of late if drivers are even taught that the Big White Line painted on the ground at a stop sign means anything. I’ve had to glare at a lot of dangerous drivers lately who think it’s perfectly fine to roll towards my knees at 5mph, while rolling through the STOP sign. Wankers indeed!

  3. @Ron

    I want a cx bike as well. Not so much that I want to race cross, but here in the PNW there are no shortage of dirt back roads, logging roads, and other off-road adventures where a mountain bike seems like overkill.

    I recently ran across a bike club here in town that is specifically all about exploring routes along crappy roads, and they even do a few 75-100 mile off-road races during the year, where the majority of the course is dirt/gravel roads.

    My current bike will only accept a 25mm tire (maybe something slightly larger if I swapped out the brake calipers), so I’d like something that could handle more robust cross tires that could handle true off-road punishment.

  4. @frank

    I love that the Italians always manage to find a way to work in the phrase, “Mamma Mia!

    No, no, no, (I love it when I get to disagree with you, its so rare), they do not “work it in” they are born saying it. Sort of like the Dutch and “Gouda”!

    Yes, yes, yes, to CX – really it was the before and now should be the after to the fad of mountain biking. And before I get slagged from here to Oz (with heavy doses from Hobbiton) all I mean is you can do about 85% of what you can on a mountain bike on a cross bike so really except for that REALLY excellent 15% (and I mean that seriously) why not own a 18lb cross bike and go see the world??

  5. @frank

    nice photo, takes me back. Love the feeling it gives that you are almost out of the cloud and into the bright blue…

    The Prophet is awesome, you can build it up to do anything really, it’s great for a day of enduro descending but swap a very bits out an it’s a pretty capable xc bike. Not sure how I’d replace it if I broke it

  6. @mcsqueak
    I’m moving back to Seattle next summer and I’m already contemplating the purchase of a rain bike (not much need for one here in central Texas). Even though I’ve never raced CX it seems about the perfect winter training/exploring bike. Fat grippy tires and the ability to easily mount fenders.

  7. @Ron
    Have you considered emulating Pantani’s form? As a smaller statured rider myself, I do attempt to climb in the drops from time to time in honor of Marco. The other choice is Levi, but he doesn’t seem to have much elegance on the bike, effective yes but not pretty.

  8. @Ron

    Did the same as you but i just checked about all the team that would be at this year TDf, i found out that little guy of 5’7” height are Cunego, Little V, Scarponi and Le Mével. So we have the choice of little climber or little sprinter. Didn’t know Pantani was that small.

  9. While you are talking about awesome descenders, let’s not forget Nibali. In the Giro, he was flying down the dirt descents in the Strada Bianche stage–the only rider I saw who never put out a foot in terror, even though at times he was clearly sliding. Rule #5 is not often applied with such vigor going down the hill.

  10. @Hobbanero
    I missed too much of the Giro. Nibali is the Man then, descending fast on a sketchy surface like the crushed marble (??) on road tires, that takes special balls. And sliding his bike, mama mia. Where do you master that skill?

  11. Years ago I saw moving pictures of Kelly descending in the tour on gravel in the rain, the moto filming could not keep up in the turns, he won the stage – Kelly covered in grime with the Irish brogue saying god knows what after the finish = Awesome!

  12. Retrospectively inspired timing for this article Gianni – should be given a couple of extra VSP points for predicting L’homme Joyeux de Tour 2011

  13. @Dr C
    Thanks, Dr. I was not clever enough to actually pick Voeckler to be in the top 5.

    There was a bit of video in the Alpe d’Huez stage where Tommy V had been fruitlessly chasing the leaders up one of those horrible mountains, burning himself out, his chances of keeping the jersey disappearing up the road and in his anger and frustration he drills his water bottle into the road. That showed it all, his frustration, his anger, he is one tough monkey. It will be interesting to see what comes of his GC ambitions next year, I bet not a top 5 placing.

  14. @rufio @Rob

    Month late reply, sorry!

    Yes, I’d love a cx bike for exploring. I just found out about a local three mile, 1,000 ft climb that is all hard-packed gravel and dirt, and I finally got around to riding it this past Sunday. My 25mm Conti’s were fine, but there were some sections where the grade ticked up and standing while climbing was a bit more interesting, as I could feel my rear wheel slipping out a bit.

    Doing that trail during the fall/winter/spring rains on normal tires would probably be pretty hard (or out of the question) due to mud, and there are some other trails around here like that that would be fun to hit and get dirty on.

  15. Great Solo Flyer today by Tommy V for the win in De Brabantse Pijl (La Flèche Brabançonne) today. Attacked from some 30 km out.

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