It’s that time of year again, about a month before Le Tour de France, when Thomas Voeckler of Europcar starts his sand-bagging routine.
The Frenchman is a master of lowering expectations and lulling his adversaries into thinking he has zero form and a Tour stage win is categorically beyond hope. He does the woe-is-me face and writes off his chances.
Last June it was Voeckler complaining of sore knees and tendonitis and downplaying his physical condition for riding his home tour. He even hinted he might have to skip the biggest race on the calendar and his Europcar team’s top priority because there was just too much knee pain.
Oh really? Voeckler proceeded to outfox everyone and win stage 10 and stage 16 and bound up the winners’ podium like his knees were perfect and all tendons intact.
Let’s remind ourselves that Voeckler also won the Polka Dot jersey of best climber in the Tour de France, the most brutal and grueling grand tour, on those supposedly bad knees. Chapeau Voeckler for faking out the peloton once again.
Le Parisien called the performance “Magnifique” and Le Figaro shouted out “Quel Numero” but plenty of observers wondered about the real state of Voeckler’s knees.
After he racked up those two big stage wins, Voeckler was forced to explain the miraculous recovery: “Although some people said there was nothing wrong with me, everything I said about my knee in the run-up to the Tour was true. I wasn’t acting,” said Voeckler.
If they handed out Oscar awards for acting at Le Tour along with the winners jerseys, Voeckler would have a fireplace mantle crowded with the trophies.
Now Twisted Spoke finds it hard not to like the irrepressible Voeckler and his attacking style. When he jumped on stage after his wins in France, he looked like the happiest man in the world, beaming with joy. The guy loves to race a bike and he has a Masters degree in reading a race.
Voeckler also knows how to sand-bag a race. We’re two days short of June and Voeckler has fired up his routine again as he prepares for the Critérium du Dauphiné.
You can almost see the script he’s working on. He’s coming back from a broken collarbone in Amstel Gold, then crashed on stage 1 of the Tour of Belgium, the form is coming along so slowly ….
“It will be difficult to get a result by the end of the race because I still feel the lack of competition over the recent weeks,” wrote Voeckler on Facebook.
In the next four weeks before the Grand Depart in Corsica, we can expect some quotes from Voeckler claiming he’s short on form, won’t be a factor, just there to support team captain Pierre Rolland, nagging injury, collarbone still hurts, etc.
He may throw in a bout with the flu, a car knocking him off his bike while training, a saddle sore or food poisoning from some bad foie gras. Perhaps his wife accidentally drops a sewing machine on his foot. He may even try the knee tendonitis routine again.
He will use whatever sandbag he can find but one thing is for sure: the first chance he gets, Voeckler will be on the attack for a Tour stage win.