SAN DIEGO, July 18, 2012 – Few professional cyclists are as popular as Thomas Voeckler. The French Europcar rider has a love and passion for the sport that defies national or team allegiances. He enjoys himself so much even when he’s suffering on a mountain stage climb you can’t help but enjoy it along with him. He is also a purist. Today, he rode without any race radio or earpiece connecting him to the team director. He simply wanted to ride his own race, as he saw fit.
So it was to enormous applause that Voeckler crossed the finish line in Luchon on Stage 16. Voeckler was far enough ahead of his closest rival, Chris Anker Sorensen of SaxoBank, that he could cruise across the finish line enjoying the moment, soaking up the crowd’s delight and blowing them kisses.
Voeckler was part of a large breakaway group that eventually dwindled over today’s multiple mountain climbs to a handful of riders. He crossed each climb first to amass enough points to take the King of the Mountains jersey as well as the stage win. Voeckler has a good chance of winning the jersey for the Tour. It would be an unexpected outcome, as Voeckler started the race still rehabilitating an injured knee. But riding in the Tour for a French cyclist inspires them to reach for something extra.
Voeckler said later his legs felt good, and he had help from Europcar teammate Yukiya Arashiro to increase the pace on the Col de Tourmalet. “I am very proud of what I did, because it resembles what I saw on TV when I was a kid. I’m in another dimension. It’s cycling as I like to practice it. Now my priority is to defend the polka-dot jersey. And normally, my Tour will effectively be over once we finish the stage tomorrow!”
Just as Voeckler had a terrific day, current Tour champion Cadel Evans had a terrible day. He was dropped on the last climb by the Tour’s leaders, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome from Sky Racing as well as Vicenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Cannondale. Eventually his team BMC allowed young American Tejay van Garderen to go on without him. Van Garderen said after the stage he tried to help Evans stay with the leaders, but it was simply a bad day for him. Evans fell below several of his rivals in the standings to seventh place.
Meanwhile Wiggins, Froome and Nibali crossed the finish line together. Seeing the three riders that could stand on the podium in Paris working together is not typical, but all three wanted to put as much time as possible between themselves and their rivals. If they stick together on tomorrow’s mountain stage, the Tour will come down to the time trial stage on Saturday. Wiggins is likely to win this stage, a fitting way to finish the 2012 Tour.
But Wiggins isn’t taking anything for granted. “The team rode fantastically well again today and we’ve created the ideal scenario by putting even more time into Cadel Evans and although we weren’t able to get rid of Nibali – who is very strong – it was a great day.
“[Nibali] is a class bike rider. The guy has won the Vuelta, he’s been on the podium at the Giro… and you can never underestimate him. It’s nice to be able to finish with him.
I don’t think that the others have eased up trying to beat me and start thinking of the other places on the podium. Not yet. They gave us a good go over on the climbs today and tomorrow is another day, another challenge.”
Today’s top finishers were:
1. Thomas Voeckler (France) Europcar 5:35:02
2. Chris Anker Sörensen (Denmark) SaxoBank 1:40
3. Gorka Izaguirre Insausti (Spain) Euskaltel - Euskadi 3:22
4. Alexandr Vinokourov (Kazhakstan) Astana 3:22
5. Brice Feillu (France) Saur - Sojasun 3:58
6. Jens Voigt (Germany) RadioShack-Nissan 4:18
7. Daniel Martin (Irelkand) Garmin-Sharp 6:08
8. Simone Stortoni (Italy) Lampre 6:08
9. Giampaolo Caruso (Italy) Katusha 6:08
10. Laurens Ten Dam (Netherlands) Rabobank 6:11
The Tour leaders remain the same:
1. Bradley Wiggins (Great Britain) Sky 74:15:32
2. Christopher Froome (Great Britain) Sky 2:05
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) Liquigas-Cannondale 2:23
4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Belgium) Lotto-Belisol 5:46
5. Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spain) RadioShack-Nissan Trek 7:13
6. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC 7:55
7. Cadel Evans (Australia) BMC 8:06
8. Janez Brajkovic (Slovakia) Astana 9:09
9. Pierre Rolland (France) Europcar 10:10
10. Thibaut Pinot (France) FDJ-Big Mat 11:43
Peter Sagan stays in the green sprinter’s jersey. Tejay van Garderen remains in the young rider’s white jersey. Voeckler is now in the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey and likely to keep it. Voeckler was also given the most aggressive rider jersey for his efforts.
Another challenging day in the mountains Thursday could shake up the overall rankings further with climbs of the Col de Mente, Col des Ares and the Port de Bales, as well as a bumpy finish. This is Vicenzo Nibali’s last chance to gain some time. If Cadel Evans is hurting again, BMC may let Tejay van Garderen see what he can do to move up in the standings, especially with French rider Thibaut Pinot less than two minutes behind van Garderen for the young rider’s white jersey. Van Garderen is the happy story for BMC and gives American cyling fans optimism for seeing an American on the podium in Paris in the future.
Marring today’s happy result for Voeckler was the shocking news that Frank Schleck of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek had tested positive for drugs and was out of the Tour. Cycling has become accustomed to doping scandals, but it hurts when a top rider is alleged to be dirty. It hurts the entire sport, and no one should be angrier about it than the cyclists who ride clean and love the sport, like today’s winner Thomas Voeckler.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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