Thomas Voeckler: “2012 will not be like 2011”
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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Thomas Voeckler: “2012 will not be like 2011”

by Ben Atkins at 4:27 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 
French hero under no illusions as to his chances of a repeat of last year’s Tour de France feats

thomas voecklerEuropcar’s Thomas Voeckler was already a hero in France, even before last summer’s performance in the Tour de France. The two-time national champion, who has worn his heart on his sleeve since he first swung his leg over a bike, held the race lead until two days before the end; losing the yellow jersey on the steep slopes to Alpe d’Huez, even as young teammate Pierre Rolland was winning the stage.

Somehow he made France believe it could win again.

In a live webchat on the Europcar team’s website, Voeckler answered questions from fans on his 2011 season, and his hopes and expectations for the coming year.

The team applied for membership of the 2012 International Cycling Union (UCI) WorldTour, but was, in the end, only ranked twentieth out of all the teams – despite performances in the Tour de France – and missed out when the list of eighteen was announced.

The team will have to rely on invitations to events, rather than being automatically qualified; its position as the top French Professional Continental team should all-but guarantee it a ride in the Tour de France, and the other big French races, but is finding itself missing out on many other events.

“The regulation is what it is,” Voeckler conceded. “We understood the scale, and we failed to get the necessary points. We're not in the first division but it doesn’t detract from our beautiful year.

“Our place hasn’t been stolen.”

Giving France hope but having little for himself

Voeckler’s ten days in yellow at the Tour – which only ended when he made the mistake of chasing his rivals alone on the stage to Alpe d’Huez – made the talismanic Frenchman the first home rider to look like possibly winning the race since Richard Virenque in the late-1990s.

While France may have begun to believe that one of their own could take the race though, Voeckler himself was under no such illusions.

“At no time [was I aiming for] final victory,” he wrote. “But to be honest, the podium had become a target after the Galibier; but never the final victory. I have been in cycling a long time, I knew that Cadel Evans was the strongest.

“Without my mistake, I could have aimed for second place,” he added.

That mistake, when he chased alone over the top of the Col du Télégraphe, and most of the way up the Col du Galibier, arguably cost him a spot on the podium – even if not the final victory itself – which he now says is the biggest regret of his career so far; dwarfing any others, in terms of significance, that he had before.

“Until then, there was a second place in the French championships in 2006, or in some stages of Paris-Nice,” he acknowledged. “At the same time though, it [the fourth place] is also my biggest satisfaction.”

Voeckler did not begin the Tour as Europcar’s sole leader, with French time trial champion Christophe Kern gunning for the overall, and eventual Alpe d’Huez and white jersey winner Pierre Rolland also out to impress. The way that the team approached the race though, as it does in virtually all others, at least one of them was bound to make an impact.

“It's going to happen naturally,” Voeckler explained. “This year the Tour, we had something particular in mind; our goal was to attack. There is never a favourite. I am more of a puncheur than Christophe and Pierre.

“In stage races, we will focus on Pierre and Christophe,” he added. “Puncheur races will be for me. Our peaks of form are different.”

In the event though, a knee injury saw Kern leave the race in the first week; denying Europcar one of its captains, and Voeckler a potentially valuable lieutenant in his time in yellow.

Little Europcar takes on the big boys

2012 will see a number of big team disappearing and, with their riders absorbed into the squads of other big teams, there will be a number of superteams for smaller outfits like Europcar to contend with this year.

“Yes, it bothers me,” said Voeckler. “When we see that HTC has gone, it's disturbing. You do not fight on equal terms. There are teams that have several Voecklers. Sky has a €15 million budget, twice as much as us... Over time, we don’t have the same means.

But it looks like we fight with our means,” he added. “You can always make an impact.”

Europcar is not short of talent in 2012, with Voeckler, Rolland and Kern to name but three, but it is none of these on his team that the 32-year-old thinks is the most exciting French talent right now

“For me it's Pierrick Fédrigo because I'm sure he can do much better,” Voeckler explained. “He has untapped potential. Pierrot is one of the top three French riders for the Grand Tours.”

Unfortunately for Voeckler’s former teammate though, illness and injury prevented much of that potential being tapped in 2011.

Having come so close to the Tour podium last year has obviously openend Voeckler’s eyes as to what he is capable of. Having raced for twelve years in the same style, and becoming synonymous with aggressive riding, it will be the same Thomas Voeckler that races in 2012.

“I have new perspectives, but I won’t change the way I ride,” he said. “I ride my bike as I like. I’m not going to throw myself into mindless escape in the mountains; I'm not going on 180km breaks into a headwind at the start of Tour. I have no objective other than to please myself.”

He also admitted though, that the bar he set last year, will be a little high to jump again this time.

“2011 will not be as good as 2012,” he admitted. “It is unrealistic.”

Despite that high Tour finish in 2011, it does not necessarily follow that he will be able to go even better in the race in 2012.

“I made a mistake but I also made a lot of good decisions at the good moments. Just because I finished fourth it doesn’t mean I can make the podium. I have nothing to justify, I just want to give the maximum.”

No longer deux-vitesses, peut-être?

Inevitably, Voeckler’s Tour de France ride, where he managed to stay with the best – and even do better than the likes of three-time winner Alberto Contador – in the mountains, led to some speculation that his performances were not entirely his own; the French, many said, must have rediscovered doping.

“I'm very comfortable talking about it,” Voeckler wrote. “There was no need for the Tour to have sceptics. I am aware that my season has been exceptional. In cycling, there is always suspicion. I was the most surprised to be at that level in the mountains. I'm not going to argue, people think what they want.

“People who believe in me, believe in me,” he continued. “Everyone has different ideas. With all the business it’s natural to be suspicious but I know I'm riding in good faith.

“I, myself, am sometimes sceptical of some riders. Suspicion is everywhere. I understand it.”

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