Tour de France - Voeckler wins stage 10 in style
France's Thomas Voeckler of Team Europcar won stage 10 of the Tour de France ahead of Italy's Michele Scarponi to take the polka dot jersey.
Voeckler was on the offensive throughout the mountainous 195.5km stage, leading a four-man break over the summit of the race’s first HC climb and capping a typically aggressive performance with a superb win in the Jura valley town of Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.
The former French national champion beat fellow veterans Scarponi (Lampre) and Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan) in a slightly uphill finale that was carried out almost in slow motion after an energy-sapping day in the saddle.
“I’m 33, it’s my tenth Tour and I fully appreciate what’s happening to me today,” said an ecstatic Voeckler after his third career stage win on the Tour.
“I went for the climbing jersey but I always wanted to win this stage. Everybody sat on my back throughout the climbs and descents but when it was the right time to go, I went. What an amazing rush it was when I crossed the line. My knees hurt. Everything hurts,” he added, referring to the tendonitis that hampered his first week of racing.
Crossing the summit of both the fearsome Col du Grand Colombier and Cat.3 Col de Richemond in pole position, Voeckler moved to the top of the polka dot jersey standings as the race’s best climber.
Britain's Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) retained his 1'43" lead over Australian Cadel Evans (BMC) in the overall classification after both riders crossed the line in a main group, 3’16” behind Voeckler.
Voeckler was initially part of a large 25-man breakaway which formed around 30km from the start of the stage in Macon following an initial attack by the green jersey, Peter Sagan (Liquigas).
The group included Sagan’s green jersey rival Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) as well as a number of experienced riders such as Voigt, Scarponi, Voeckler, Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) and Garmin-Sharp pair David Millar and Dave Zabriskie.
In fact, with 11 former Tour stage winners and four previous yellow jerseys (Voigt, Voeckler, Millar and Zabriskie) involved, this break was a roll call of top Tour personalities and, as such, seemed predestined to go the distance.
The 25 riders had built up a lead of seven minutes as they started the first of three climbs after 90km or racing. The Cat.2 Cote de Corlier posed few problems to the escapees, who managed to increase their lead over the top ahead of a long, winding descent towards the intermediate sprint.
Triple stage winner Sagan made a bid to take the maximum points at the sprint, but the Slovakian youngster was outfoxed by points jersey rival Goss and Belorussian Yauheni Haturovich (FDJ-BigMat). Australian Goss increased his tally of green jersey points to 205 in pursuit of Sagan's 232.
All three sprinters were amongst the first riders to drop back once the break hit the precipitous slopes of the Col du Grand Colombier. The 17km climb, which has an an average gradient of 7.1 percent, is a regular fixture in the Criterium du Dauphine but was being used for the very first time in the Tour’s history.
An attack by Scarponi forced an early selection, with Voeckler, Sanchez, Frenchmen Jean Christophe Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Sandy Casar (FDJ-BigMat) and the Belgian Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) the only riders capable of following.
On a flatter middle section in the shade, Spaniard Sanchez attacked to open a small gap. The Rabobank three-time Tour stage winner was pegged back by Voeckler, Scarponi and Devenyns, and the four rode together towards the summit, which Voeckler crossed first after jumping out of the saddle and putting in a strong dig.
Back with the bunch, Team Sky had matters under control with Australian pair Michael Rogers and Richie Porte fronting the peloton and the yellow jersey Wiggins riding in the wheel of third-place Chris Froome.
But Wiggins was put under pressure on the descent of the Grand Colombier by Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) who used his fabled downhill skills to open up a gap of more than a minute.
It was a brave move by Nibali, who looked set to leap-frog Froome into third place on the GC before being pegged back midway through the final climb of the day, the Col du Richemond.
Further up the road, Voeckler secured the polka dot jersey by leading the quartet over the summit ahead of Scarponi with a gap of 3’30” over the peloton with 20km to go.
The quartet was joined by Voigt inside the final 10km after the 40-year-old German put in a strong descent. The RadioShack veteran went for an instant attack but was reeled in straight away.
With 4km to ride, Devenyns attacked after taking a back seat throughout the day – much to the chagrin of Voeckler, who had asked his colleague on numerous occasions to pull on the front.
The four chasing riders were in disarray as Devenyns opened up a small gap - and it was Voigt who made the first move with 3km remaining.
Voeckler kept his cool and countered both riders inside the final 2km, first passing Voigt under the ‘flamme rouge’ and then catching his foe Devenyns with 500m remaining.
Sanchez tried a late bid to counter, but hit a wall in the closing straight. Scarponi and Voigt also tried their luck – but it was to be Voeckler’s day. The Frenchman crossed the line with a mixture of ecstasy and relief, beating Scarponi by three seconds and Voigt by seven. An exhausted Sanchez came home 23 seconds down and Devenyns a further seven seconds in arrears.
A small group containing Voeckler’s Europcar team-mate Pierre Rolland and Lotto Belisol’s Jurgen van den Broeck – who has both attacked in the closing stages of the final climb – crossed the line 2’44” back, 32 seconds before the yellow jersey group came home.
"It was pretty straight forward today really," said Wiggins. "We knew that the climb would be tough but that, probably, the attacks would come on the descent – which they did. So it all went to script today and it all worked out. There wasn't any moment when I was really worried."
The Tour continues on Thursday with the 148km stage 11 – a short but lively Alpine slog which includes the brutal Col de la Madeleine and Col de la Croix de Fer HC climbs before the race’s second summit finish at La Toussuire.