Thomas Voeckler Interview: 2010 plans include Liège-Bastogne-Liège
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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thomas Voeckler Interview: 2010 plans include Liège-Bastogne-Liège

by Steve Jones at 5:31 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews

For years Thomas Voeckler has been entertaining cycling fans with his exploits off the front of the peloton. The Frenchman began his career as a stagiare in 2000 with Jean-René Bernaudeau's then Bonjour squad, and has stayed loyal to the team as it evolved from Brioches La Boulangère to now Bbox Bouygues Telecom. He came to popularity in 2004 when riding in the French National Champion’s tricoleur jersey, he and five others got away during the fifth stage of the Tour de France, a day that netted the Frenchman 10 days in the coveted maillot jaune.

Voeckler's battle to hold yellow was during a huge year for the race, where then five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was going for a record win number six. Voeckler's battle for yellow dominated the headlines as he beat the odds, dragging himself over the Pyreneean climbs defiantly clinging onto the race lead.

Eventually the Frenchman would hand over the jersey to Armstrong, but he would finish that Tour a changed man, etching a story line into the history books of cycling's greatest race. Voeckler again made his mark in the Tour de France this year, once more on stage five, but this time leaving nothing to chance; he sailed across the finish line of the wind-swept stage alone.

Some would call what Thomas is famous for suicide breaks; call them what you will, but the tactic is an integral part of making the sport entertaining, and in Voeckler's case, it's also profitable as his palmarès and popularity continue to grow with each passing year.

Voeckler spoke to VeloNation while he was preparing for next season at the team's first training camp held in the Vendée region of France. We got his take on some of the conflicts and issues in cycling today, as well as what he thought about the recent loss of the team's ProTour license. We were most surprised with his determination and focus on Liège-Bastogne-Liège for 2010, cycling's oldest monument. He admittedly hasn't put in a performance that would explain why he believes he can win La Doyenne. Nevertheless, he is determined to add more one day races to his name to go alongside his stirring win amongst some of the world’s best in GP Ouest France two years ago.

VeloNation:  The team lost their ProTour license this year. How has that affected the team's motivation for next season, and are you concerned about getting invitations to any of the races?

Thomas Voeckler:  It has really motivated the team for next year. When our ProTour license was taken away it was like being moved from the first division to the second division in football. We are no longer considered at the top level of the sport, and we all naturally want to be back in the ProTour again. It's better for our sponsors to have that association, and we will all work hard next season to get back.

We have already confirmed our invitations with race organizers for most of the races on our schedule. We are automatically invited to the Grand Tours because of an agreement made between the race organizers and the International Cycling Union (UCI) back in 2008, so not having the ProTour license shouldn't cause us a problem.

VN:  What did you think about Pierrick Fédrigo when he considered leaving the team, and did you consider leaving yourself?

TV:  It is normal that he would want to think about leaving the team after we lost our ProTour license. If he had decided not to stay it would have been a huge loss to the team, and a big loss for me personally since he is one of the team's leaders.

For me, it was never a question on whether or not I would ride for the team in 2010. I never considered leaving. For 2011, well, I don't know where I will be then, but for 2010 I was always going to be riding for Bbox Bouygues Telecom.

VN:  The Amaury Sports Organization and the UCI clashed over the ProTour idea for quite a while. It seems that the two sides have finally calmed down and are willing to work together. What is your take on the ProTour, and do you think it is a good thing for cycling?

TV:  Yes, I think the ProTour is a very good thing for cycling. It's great to see the UCI working to globalize the sport. Before it [cycling] was just here in Europe, and now, you have races in other countries. There are new races like the Tour of California that have gotten very popular. With the path the UCI is taking to grow the sport around the world, in ten years a race like [the Tour of] California could become a part of the ProTour and become as important as the Tour de France.

I think that it is very important to also keep the historical races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour of Flanders as a big part of the competition. They are what built cycling so they should be featured at the top of the ProTour calendar.

VN:  The AFLD and the UCI have been at odds with one another for quite some time. What do you think about the situation?

TV:  It's a problem because it seems like the goal has been to get the most publicity rather than to clean up the sport. The improvements they have made in the doping controls are a very positive step, and I think that they should be as strict as they can be with the doping rules.

They caught [Mikel] Astarloza in the Tour this year, and it is good because the second and third place riders (Sandy Casar and Pierrick Fédrigo) now realize that it's possible for them to win a stage while racing clean.

The goal for the AFLD and the UCI should not be about catching the big stars to get headlines, they should have a positive and common goal where their motives are clear - it is to clean up the sport, nothing else.

VN:  How do you feel about the privacy issues with respect to the doping controls?

TV:  When you are a professional cyclist you have chosen a career path where you do not live a normal life anyway. You need to do whatever is necessary to keep the sport fair [with respect to the fight against doping], and to me it is not an invasion of my privacy or any sort of problem to do whatever is needed to accomplish that goal.

VN:  This year started out well for you with wins in the Étoile de Bessèges and the Tour du Haut Var. You rode well in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, but then focused mainly on French races. For 2010 do you have any plans to stay further north and maybe take part in more of the Spring Classics - maybe Flanders again?

TV:  Unfortunately, the Tour of Flanders interferes with my preparation for Liège-Bastogne-Liège which is a race I want to focus on this year. The Tour of the Basque Country is the ideal preparation [for LBL], and I can't focus on both races. While I haven't shown impressive results at Liège in the past, on paper it is an ideal race for me, so I plan to do my best and really focus on having a good result there this year.

VN:  You won stage 5 that finished in Perpignan in this year's Tour de France. It was the day after the team time trial. Back in 2004 when you took the maillot jaune it was also the day after a TTT. Did you have that stage marked on your calendar, and how did the weather play a role in your choice to go for the victory?

TV:  No, I didn't even consider that the fact that the team time trial was the day before. It was a very windy day, and I knew that the sprinter's teams would not be motivated to work like they would on a day with good weather.

When I was out in the break I had two Française des Jeux riders with me, and one of them was a sprinter, so I didn't really think that I would have a chance for a win. I rode all day with that in mind, and it turned out that it helped me conserve the energy I needed to get away at the end of the stage. The tailwind going into the finish was also a big factor in my win that day.

VN:  What do you do to prepare yourself mentally and physically for a long breakaway?

TV:  When you're a rider that normally has success in a breakaway situation, you have to begin every day with the thought that there could be a break that day. You never have a choice when it comes to a breakaway succeeding since there are too many factors involved, so you must always be prepared to make the effort.

Once you are out there and realize you're going to be off the front all day, you then start the eat more than you would in the peloton so you can sustain your effort, and you begin paying closer attention to all of the details about the course - is there a climb, a key turn, a tailwind to the finish etc.

VN:  What are your goals for 2010?

TV:  I plan to focus on Paris-Nice, Liège is very important to me as I had mentioned earlier, and to ride in the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France to try to go for stage wins. We're still sorting out my program, but the rest of the year will be built around those races. I'm not a rider like Alberto Contador where I can focus on just one race [the Tour de France] and have that my only focus for the season, so I will have many targets throughout the year.

VN:  While she isn't your personal coach, what has it been like to have Marion Clignet working with the team as a coach?

TV:  Marion brings a lot of experience to the team. One thing that she has really helped me out with in particular was with advice on how to perform my intervals properly. Before when I did my intervals my cadence was much too low. When she saw what I was doing and explained the benefits of using a higher cadence, I made the change and was able to get more out of my training.

She has also been a big help in working with the riders on the team who don't have a personal coach. She is able to help them to prepare properly for the season, and has also done a great job with the younger riders.


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