He attacks, he crashes, he rides into random car parks - and
yet still he leads the Tour. Is Thomas Voeckler the most exciting maillot jaune
since, erm, Thomas Voeckler in 2004?
They call him "Petit Blanc" - but surely that
should be "Grand Jaune" now after another mesmerising performance in
the fabled yellow jersey.
The most thrilling Tour in years hit top gear on Wednesday
with a descent described by Andy Schleck as "fatally dangerous".
Schleck's quibble aside, it was without a doubt one of the most thrilling
finales to a stage in recent years - primarily due to the man in yellow.
Knowing his overall lead will be under severe pressure on
Thursday with the Tour's highest ever summit finish atop the snow-capped
Galibier, Voeckler went on the offensive on the controversial descent down the
back of the Pramartino.
A yellow jersey on the attack, eh? That hasn't been seen
since the days of Armstrong - but then it was often a tedious, robotic affair.
With Voeckler you never know what you're going to get. He's the Kryten of
cyclist robots (for all those Red Dwarf fans out there) - just not as gormless.
First of all, he overshot a tight bend and almost landed
into the same ditch that cushioned the fall of his compatriot Jonathan Hivert
Then the same thing happened on another bend. But instead of
crashing on his side, Voeckler chose to ride on into a car parking area on the
concrete terrace of a house beside the road. In doing so he actually jumped off
a metre-high ledge and was airborne for a moment before landing in the
Keeping as cool as Thor Hushovd in a Mardi Gras parade,
Voeckler turned around, pushed his bike up the slope and back onto the road,
and continued on his way. He can thank his fellow Frenchman Hivert for leaving
the gate open - for the Saur-Sojasun rider had again made the exact same
mistake minutes earlier.
The elegance with which Voeckler dealt with these mishaps
was worthy of an "oo, la la!". Two big scares and not a scratch. He
even joined the road ahead of Ivan Basso - and lost only 27 seconds at the
finish. "A lesser evil," said his Europcar team-manager Jean-Rene
Bernaudeau - and that's about right.
Had it been Andy Schleck, he would have probably contrived
to slam into the parking lot fence - merely to make a point and prove his
Had it been the honest Cadel Evans, he probably would have
stopped to pay the parking meter before going on his way.
Had it been Jan Ullrich, there would have no doubt been a
farmers' market being held in the open space and the German would have felt
compelled to stay for a bratwurst with fried onions.
We know, he knows, everyone knows that Voeckler has about as
much chance of winning the Tour de France as either Schleck has at winning an
arm wrestle against Mr T. But you get the impression, by the way he's riding, Voeckler
isn't going to give up without a fight.
On Thursday Tommy will enter the 19th day of his career in
yellow - that's two more days than Alberto Contador has managed. That stat
speaks for itself.
Gaffe of the Day:
Well, the chap who left his outdoor garage gate open may have saved the skin of
Hivert and Voeckler, but he did seem to get all his cars stolen.
Plat du Jour:
Loads of pizza followed by some panettone with local apples from the renowned
orchards of Pinerolo.
Word of the Day:
Boassoon - huge woodwind instrument which is the standout sound of any
Uses for... Edvald Boasson
Hagen: A telescope with which to see the wonders of the Sky
Quote of the Day:
"It was very dangerous again today. Unfortunately, another guy lost some
seconds or maybe the Tour because of a downhill. This time it was Thomas who
had to pay for it and I don't think any athlete wants to see that, or win or
lose the Tour because of a downhill." Frank Schleck. Somehow, Saddles
doesn't reckon he would have said the same thing had it been Alberto Contador
Stage 16 prediction:
Voeckler will stay with the big guns on both the Agnel and Izouard before
launching an attack on the penultimate descent of the day alongside the new
Spanish Alliance. Contador and Sanchez will trade blows on the final climb of
the Galibier, but Bertie will take the spoils - and take a minute off his main
rivals. Voeckler, however, will fade and lose the yellow to Cadel Evans, who
will be allowed to have his annual day in yellow. Both Schlecks will get frost
bite and will have to lose a little toe.