Thomas Voeckler won stage 10 of the Tour de France on Wednesday in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine from the day’s long breakaway. Voeckler (Europcar) rode a wave of late attacks by the escape’s final five survivors and topped Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) and Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan) in the uphill finish.
Voeckler and company rode away from a 25-man breakaway on the hors categorie Col du Grand Colombier. Luis León Sánchez (Rabobank) and Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) were the other riders to survive the first ascent of the 17km climb in Tour history.
A late counter-attack by Voigt threatened to steal Voeckler’s thunder, especially when the German went off in pursuit of Devenyns after the Belgian attacked with 3.5km to race. But on the small rise leading to the finish line Voeckler somehow found the strength to leave Scarponi and Sanchez in his wake to overtake both Voigt and Devenyns.
“I’m 33 years old and in my 10th Tour de France. I fully appreciate what’s happening to me,” said Voeckler. “It’s hard for me to recount. My knees hurt, everything hurts. Before this Tour started, Europcar was not in a great place. I saw my little boy and saw it in his eyes. I couldn’t give up.”
Bradley Wiggins and his Sky teammates Chris Froome and Richie Porte fended off a series of attacks to defend the yellow jersey. Second overall Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), fourth overall Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and fifth overall Denis Menchov (Katusha) finished with Wiggins to maintain their GC rankings ahead of Thursday’s 11th stage.
Nibali and Jurgen Van de Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) were among the riders to attack the yellow jersey group on the descent from the Grand Colombier, with the Sicilian building over a minute’s advantage at one point after catching teammate Peter Sagan, who dropped off the breakaway. Just has they did in a nearly identical fifth stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June, Wiggins and company caught the Italian near the summit of the Col de Richemond, 20km from the finish.
“I didn’t panic when he attacked,” said Wiggins. “He’s over two minutes behind me and I knew he’d have to be really strong in the valley if he was to stay away.”
But in a change from that Dauphiné stage, Evans did not attack on the descent, saying he “was a little bit hesitant.”
“Maybe it was a missed opportunity or something,” said Evans. “Sky really has the team for this course and this situation… So it leaves the opportunities few and far between. And with the wind and the climb that far from the finish, it was a bit difficult today.”
Van den Broeck attacked again over the top of the Richemond and took half-a-minute on the Wiggins group at the finish, taking back time in the race for the best young rider’s jersey from Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), who struggled on the day’s final two climbs. Evans led the group to the finish after putting in a dig on the final ramp to the line.
“It was a tough day,” said van Garderen. “I was struggling out there, got dropped, trying to be there for Cadel, just give him a gel, do what I can, then dropped on the final kilometer of the climb. I thought I was dropped on descent, but saw the cars, and knew I could close it down.
Sagan launched the 25-man breakaway inside the stage’s first 5km, and Cyril Lemoine (Saur-Sojasun) and Andriy Grivko (Astana) quickly joined him. The move quickly ballooned in numbers, with Scarponi the best man on GC, at 10:27 back. The move built up a lead of seven minutes by the stage’s halfway point and carried more than six minutes onto the Grand Colombier. That’s where Voeckler unhitched 21 of the attackers, including Voigt, who chased for more than 35km before rejoining the front of the race inside 10km to go.
Devenyns set out, then Voigt, and finally Voeckler countered them.
“Today was a stage where, in this moment I have mixed feelings,” said Devenyns. “I don’t know if I should be happy for the performance or a little bit disappointed because I didn’t win. But honestly, I think I did the best I could with some of the best guys in the peloton.”
Voeckler cracked inside the final 300 meters and looked to be losing control as Scarponi surged up the right barriers. The Frenchman held on, however, and crossed the line in pieces.
“I was in extreme pain at the end. The only thing that kept me going was that I knew the others were feeling the same,” he said.
His efforts over the climbs won him the polka dot jersey, but Voeckler admitted his stage win had been hard to come by.
“I suffered a cramp when I went for the points at the summit of the Grand Colombier, but I thought ‘well at least that’s the jersey in the bag,’” he said. “I also wanted to contest the stage win but in the breakaway I felt like I was being marked. When Devenyns attacked, I said to the others ‘go after him.’
“If the finale had been on a flat stretch, it would have been over. Thankfully for me it was that little bit harder.”
Thursday’s 148km 11th stage takes the peloton from Albertville over 73km of climbing to the summit of La Toussuire ski station. Wiggins said he expects more of the same from his rivals.
“We knew coming into the Tour it was going to be like that. The leader’s jersey gets attacked, so I expect it really,” he said. “It would be a pretty poor mountain stage on the telly if everyone rode along all day and no one attacked.”
“You have to make opportunities for yourself,” he said. “Tomorrow, I think the attacking riders will be more rewarded. But we’ll have to see how the other teams react to the race.”
Agence France Presse contributed to this report.