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Voeckler targets Dauphine ahead of Tour challenge

The Frenchman said he has a “soft spot” for the eight-day race in his home country

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Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) is gearing up for another Tour de France — this year’s race will be his 12th straight — by racing at the upcoming Critérium du Dauphiné.

But that doesn’t mean he will take it easy at the eight-day French race that starts Sunday with a time trial in Lyon. No, Voeckler is planning to race.

“I have a soft spot for one-week stage races like Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné,” Voeckler said in a press release from race organizer ASO. “I don’t need any extra motivation to race the Dauphiné because it’s a natural objective for me.”

Voeckler’s 2014 campaign began on a rough patch, as he crashed during a training ride in Australia before the Santos Tour Down Under. A broken collarbone was the result, and he’s been playing a game of catch-up ever since.

With a pair of top-3 stage finishes thus far, Voeckler is still seeking his first win of the year. He hopes it will come at the Dauphiné, where he won stage 6 in Grenoble last year and placed 10th overall in 2011.

“I haven’t been firing on all cylinders so far this year,” Voeckler said. “I’m not 100 percent relaxed ahead of the Dauphiné, but I haven’t got any reason to expect the worst, either. With such a strong field [that includes Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, and Vincenzo Nibali], I don’t think I’ll be in the mix for the overall win, but I do expect to be a protagonist, like last year.”

A talented climber, Voeckler is targeting stage 4, a 168-kilometer route from Montélimart to Gap that features a medium-mountain profile, and potentially the 160km seventh stage from Ville-la-Grand to Finhaut-Emosson. The latter contains five categorized climbs — including back-to-back hors category ascents at the end.

Voeckler said he has checked out the stage 7 finishing climb. “Riders who forget to mount a 27 [-tooth cog] will be in a world of pain,” he noted.

Voeckler told ASO he has “great memories” of racing at the Dauphiné over the years.

“At the Tour de France, I’ve always said I preferred the Pyrenees to the Alps,” he said. “But I’ve got great memories of the Critérium, the best of which dates from my first start in 2004, when I finished third in a stage, also in Grenoble, behind Michael Rasmussen and Ivan Basso but ahead of the Phonaks [Gutiérrez, Sevilla, Pereiro, and Hamilton]. I was flabbergasted.”

Voeckler captured the hearts of everyone during the 2011 Tour de France, in which he wore the yellow jersey from stages 10-19. It was a remarkable run, and he lost the race lead on the slopes of the Alpe d’Huez to Andy Schleck. Cadel Evans eventually took the overall win.

Voeckler went on to finish fourth, his best career result in a grand tour.