Ask Jens Voigt and Michele Scarponi (Lampre) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) how sore Thomas Voeckler’s knees are and they’re liable to smack you in the face. The answer is, not very.
Voeckler beat those three powerful riders and poor Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) to win a thrilling slow motion uphill sprint into Bellegarde sur Valserine.
They were the final five in a large escape group that got away and stayed away. In the final ten kilometers Voeckler did half the workload yet still countered the moves by Voigt and Devenyns. For a man who claimed in mid June that sore knees might keep him out of Le Grand Shindig, it was quite a dramatic turnaround.
“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. “I always say what I feel and when asked a question I tell people exactly how it is.”
Somehow, some way, the irrepressible Voeckler finds a way to win big races. He’s aggressive, his timing is superb and he reads tactical situation on the fly. Sanchez in particular is an astute rider who appeared to have the upper hand, taking fewer pulls and conserving strength. Voeckler is also a master of the bluff and he worked the “sore knee” routine to perfection.
Voeckler thrilled all of France in last year’s Tour, taking the yellow jersey in Saint Flour and holding it for ten days on his way to a fourth place overall. However, the Europcar rider lowered all expectations this year. Bum knees, not enough form, too much rabbit pate. Well, even after the win, he literally jumped onto the podium and bounces a few times. That Advil and massage must work wonders.
“I’m 33 years old and this is my 10th Tour de France, so I fully appreciate what is happening to me. I knew that the King of the Mountains jersey was possible, but I wanted to win the stage,” said Voeckler. “No one would help me push on the climbs, they just sat on my wheel. That annoyed me, but it also inspired me.”
Rapid reaction: Le Grand Colombier turns out to be Le Grand snooze as far as the Wiggins-Evans battle. The set-up was look out everybody, a 17 kilometer torture fest, unrelenting, lots of hairpins, grades up to 12%, the first hors’ catagorie climb of Le Tour, a technical and ganders descent. Snooze.
It turned out to be another day at the office for Bradley Wiggins and Sky. Cadel Evans didn’t’ venire the slightest attack, not even a feint. Boasson-Hagen, Rogers, Porte and Froome had complete control over Evans. Only Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) hit the gas and they shut him down in seconds.
While Evans made no attempt to gain back time on Wiggins until 500 meters from the finish line, it was Vincenzo Nibali who attacked on the descent of the Grand Colombier. Before you could say “Nibali In Second Place” he had 30 seconds and punched it out to a minute by the time he hit the valley and picked up teammate Peter Sagan for extra pacing.
The Nibali-Sagan gambit was a nice move but with Sky’s strength in numbers, they slowly pulled him back as Nibali started up the final climb of the day, the Col du Richemond, Chapeau Shark. At least somebody had a plan and stuck to it.
Sky likes to talk about marginal gains and Evans certainly went marginal today. Apparently he decided that tomorrow’s Madeleine, Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Glandon, Toussuire festival of pain is a better place to kill Wiggins. It’s an HC, HC, 2-1 that would break even the best climber.
However, Twisted Spoke wonders if Evans will once again be on his own, grinding in solitaire. His right hand mountain man Tejay Van Garderen popped on the last climb. Though he managed to close the gap on the run in to Bellegarde sur Valserine and keep his white jersey, this doesn’t seem to bode well for Evan’s back-up. It may very well be four against one and those odds ain’t great.
Voeckler’s odds today were one in five and he pulled out a sensational win. “Coming into the finish, I waited for my moment and then went. When I crossed that line, I felt such a rush,” said Voeckler. “My knees hurt, everything hurts, but I couldn’t give up.”
Let’s just admit his knees don’t hurt that bad.