200 kilometres, four mountain passes and one stirring performance from Thomas Voeckler. On the toughest day of the Tour de France, across the famed “Circle of Death” in the Pyrenees, the Europcar rider took his second stage victory of the race and moved to the top of the mountains classification.
The irrepressible Frenchman led the race over each of the day’s four climbs, four names that are etched forever in the rich history of the Tour – the Col d’Aubisque, the Col du Tourmalet, the Col d’Aspin and the Col de Peyresourde.
The break of the day formed on the Aubisque, and the canny Voeckler made sure that he was a part of the move. At the summit of the climb, he showed his intentions by winning the sprint for the king of the mountains points.
Next up was the mighty Tourmalet, where the first man to the summit is awarded with the prestigious Souvenir Jacques Goddet. Voeckler gratefully led over the top, but he already had his eyes fixed on an even bigger prize, and was by now had only Brice Feillu (Saur-Sojasun) for company at the front of the race.
The two leaders continued to work together on the Col d’Aspin, where Voeckler picked up even more points for the mountains classification, but their alliance ended on the Peyresourde. 6 kilometres from the summit, Voeckler sensed his moment and launched a violent attack.
Feillu tried to follow, but when Voeckler accelerated again, he could no longer resist. Voeckler was alone on the mountain with only thousands and thousands of cheering fans for company. By the top of the climb, Voeckler had a lead of over one minute and he extended that advantage all the way down to the finish in Bagnères-de-Luchon, to the delight of the home crowds.
“This is how I really like to race, by going on the attack,” Voeckler said at the finish. “When I heard that I had a lead of 1:30 at the summit of the Peyresourde, I told myself that it would be enough. The descent was difficult, but in the final kilometres, I was able to really savour my victory before crossing the finish line.”
Voeckler has a real appreciation for the history of his sport, and his victory was reminiscent of something from cycling’s golden era. In the modern age, few riders win a stage after leading over four mountain passes.
“I’ve been racing these mountains since I was 19 years old, so I knew each of these 197km by heart,” Voeckler said. “I’ve also just spent four cols in front – it’s something I saw on television when I was a kid. I’m very proud of what I did today.”
For good measure, Voeckler now leads the king of the mountains classification with just one big day in the Pyrenees to come.
“I’m only four points ahead,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to do again tomorrow.”
After leading over the Col du Grand Colombier in week two and four legendary passes in the Pyrenees, Voeckler is certainly a worthy wearer of the famous jersey.