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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

91st Tour de France - July 3-25, 2004

An interview with outgoing maillot jaune Thomas Voeckler, July 20, 2004

The end of the dream

Thomas Voeckler's amazing run in the yellow jersey finally came to an end in Villard-de-Lans today, after he could no longer hang on to the furious pace set by US Postal, CSC and T-Mobile. But young Thomas has a bright future ahead of him, as Mélanie Leveau writes.

Thomas Voeckler (Brioches)
Photo ©: Sirotti
Click for larger image

Thomas Voeckler crosses the line 9'30 behind Lance Armstrong. It is over. He won't wear the yellow jersey any longer. It is the American who will climb l'Alpe d'Huez in yellow tomorrow. In the general classification, Voeckler is now eighth overall, 9'28 back.

Voeckler doesn't look disappointed. He suspected before the start this morning that his hours were numbered. He knew he was right as soon as the fight started. He was dropped for the first time on the second category Col des Limouches but, as a habit, came back on the descent. The next climb, however, was fatal. He would never see again Armstrong before the finish line in Villard-de-Lans.

He rode the three kilometres of the final climb alone, first behind a big peloton, but concluded his day on his teammate Pineau's wheel after a long sprint to the line.

Voeckler lost his yellow jersey. True. But a new race started for him: the one for the white jersey that rewards the best young rider. "The yellow jersey wasn't a real objective. It was more a kind of bonus. But the white jersey is a goal we can reach with the team: not only me, but Chavanel and Pineau too," said Voeckler after the finish today.

Moreover, the Brioches la Boulangère team's job this afternoon was to lose as little time as possible over Karpets, who managed to follow the leaders' pace on the Col des Limouches. Finally Voeckler lost more than six minutes to the Russian but leads the young rider classification with an advantage of 7'41 over Sandy Casar and 7'54 over Karpets.

TiTi Voeckler (Brioches)
Photo ©: Caroline Yang
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Tomorrow will be an other day. But what a day! The 15.5 kilometres from Bourg d'Oisans to the summit of l'Alpe d'Huez might be tough. Voeckler has climbed l'Alpe d'Huez only once. It was last year and he finished in the gruppetto. "I'll try to climb it faster! But this stage scares me. I hope I will have recovered from today's efforts. I'll do my best because the race for the white jersey is far from over."

The million spectators expected tomorrow on the climb to l'Alpe d'Huez will help him for sure. "Since I've been wearing the yellow jersey and especially since Saturday (when he managed to keep 0'22 over Armstrong on the Plateau de Beille) people have been great with me. I can't believe they are here for me". But it is a reality. Banners along the road prove it. The words "Merci Thomas" are everywhere and today was even "Voeckler President"! No doubt that France found in Voeckler its new darling.

Voeckler has got the perfect profile for it. He is young, friendly, full of lust and courage and never forgets to thank his teammates for their total devotion. He is the symbol of a new generation that France was waiting for. He is also the national champion and has been named one of the five French riders for the Olympics. In fact, Voeckler gained the selectors' confidence after his June results (winner of A Travers le Morbihan, the final stage of the Route du Sud and the national title) and his performance in the Tour. "To take part to the Olympics was one of my career objectives but I was thinking more of the 2008 edition. This competition will take place about three weeks after the end of the Tour and it will help me to keep motivated and concentrated after Paris."

Photo ©: Caroline Yang
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2004 is for sure a key year for Voeckler. He hopes he will continue his career with Jean-René Bernaudeau and his Brioches la Boulangère friends, but no new sponsor has been found yet. Hopefully the team attitude and performance will help the negotiations. If the new sponsor won't be assured to get the yellow or the white jersey in the Tour next year, at least he will be assured of national jersey until June 2005. And at 25 and bolstered by his Tour experience, no doubt Voeckler will continue to surprise us.

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