Thomas Voeckler says he’s been heckled and even spit upon by French fans, but that isn’t stopping him from enjoying his banner ride in Wednesday’s 11th stage at the Tour de France.
Voeckler (Europcar) was all smiles after winning his third career Tour stage and claiming the King of the Mountains jersey, despite skepticism from some French fans lining the road.
“People were whistling at me and even some were spitting,” Voeckler said after the stage. “I do not care. They can say what they want. I know I have done nothing wrong. This victory means the world to me.”
The source of the fans’ angst is an investigation that French prosecutors opened just before the start of the Tour into alleged nefarious activities surrounding Voeckler’s team during its 2011 Tour.
Investigators are following up on reports that the team might have been undergoing banned intravenous vitamin injections and abusing corticoids, something Voeckler and Europcar team management have vehemently denied.
French prosecutors say they are only in the initial stages of gathering information before deciding to step forward with a formal case, but the story was leaked to L’Equipe in the days before the start of the Tour.
No formal charges have been filed, yet the hint of suspicion has prompted some roadside fans to chide Voeckler.
The Frenchman was the hero of last year’s Tour, carrying the yellow jersey into the Alps and ending up fourth overall. Europcar teammate Pierre Rolland won the stage up Alpe d’Huez and the white jersey en route to 10th overall.
This year, Voeckler has suffered through the Tour, complaining of searing knee pain that almost caused him to abandon the race in the opening days in Belgium.
Voeckler hobbled through the Critérium du Dauphiné in June and didn’t touch his bike for nearly two weeks with the knee pain.
Since then, he’s struggled through this Tour, enduring the scorn of some fans and threatening to abandon at every turn.
“People do not believe me when I say my knee hurt, but I was only telling the truth. The journalists ask me the questions and I tell them the answers,” Voeckler said. “I decided to push on because it’s the Tour. Now the knee is feeling better, but today my entire body hurt. I had to give everything to win the stage. I still cannot believe I have won!”
A smiling Voeckler was hoping his ride Wednesday would turn the boos into cheers, and that the investigation amounts to nothing.
Stage winner: Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) attacked out of a breakaway to win his third career Tour stage.
Yellow jersey: Bradley Wiggins (Sky) defended the maillot jaune with no major shakeups in the overall standings; Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) climbed into eighth overall.
Green jersey: Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) kept the points jersey.
Polka dot jersey: Voeckler took the lead in the King of the Mountains competition from Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana).
White jersey: Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) kept the young rider’s jersey, but Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) pulled within 25 seconds.
Best team: RadioShack-Nissan kept its lead to Team Sky.
Most combative: Voeckler won the day’s prize for the most aggressive rider.
The peloton: Three lighter
Three riders did not start, leaving 175 riders in the bunch. Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Matt Lloyd (Lampre-ISD) left with nagging injuries; Remy Di Gregorio (Cofidis) was taken into custody by French authorities Tuesday for allegedly trying to purchase doping products last year
Crash at 3km: Vincent Jerome (Europcar), trauma to the left wrist; Vasili Kiryienka (Movistar)
On course: Marcel Sieberg (Lotto-Belisol), cough; Alessandro Vinotti (Liquigas-Cannondale), pain to left ankle; Julian Simon (Saur-Sojasun), gastroenteritis
Weather forecast: Continued warm
Continued sunny skies, with highs in the upper 70s F in the valleys, cooler on the summits; swirling winds 10-20 kph
Tomorrow’s stage: Decisive summit finale
The 99th Tour continues Thursday with the short, but explosive 148km stage from Albertville to La Toussuire. The stage tackles two hors-categorie climbs in the first 93km before a quick ride up the “easy” side of the Cat. 2 Mollard climb at 113km. A descent leads to the base of the Cat. 1 Toussuire summit, the scene of Floyd Landis’ “crack” during the 2006 Tour de France.