Tour de France leader Thomas Voeckler admitted to being put in trouble Tuesday after a surprise attack by reigning champion Alberto Contador blew the yellow jersey race wide open. On a ‘transition’ stage ahead of three consecutive days in the Alps, Contador, who started the day four minutes behind Voeckler, put himself back into contention thanks to a series of attacks on the only real climb of the day. While Australian contender Cadel Evans and Samuel Sanchez were able to follow, many riders, including Voeckler and the fancied Schleck brothers Andy and Frank, were left trailing on the tricky descent into Gap. The result ultimately allowed the Spaniard to take 1:06-seconds from two-time runner-up Andy Schleck, who in the process lost 1:09 to Evans
In the race’s overall standings Europcar team leader Voeckler leads Evans by 1:45, Frank Schleck by 1:49, Andy Schleck by 3:03 and Contador by 3:42. After showing his credentials by soaking up attacks from the Schleck brothers throughout the climb to Plateau de Beille in the Pyrenees on stage 14, Voeckler hinted that his time in yellow could soon be up.
“I showed my limits today, on terrain which suited me well and while I was feeling good,” said Voeckler, who eventually finished the 16th stage 18-seconds behind Contador but 16secs ahead of Andy Schleck. “I’m not going to pretend it’s because we had a rest day yesterday. I’ve lost 20 seconds (to Evans) and when you see the stages up ahead… for sure, it’s a bad day for me.”
Stage 17 opens three days of climbing in the Alps although the ride from Gap to Pinerolo in Italy finishes on a tricky descent. Incidentally, that could tempt Contador into similar tactics. The next two stages are summit finishes, at the Galibier on Thursday and Alpe d’Huez on Friday. France’s last home winner of the race was legend Bernard Hinault in 1985. Voeckler took the jersey from Thor Hushovd after the crash-marred ninth stage to Saint-Flour and despite impressing his rivals has affirmed in recent days he has “zero chance” of succeeding Hinault. But while the Alsatian continues to play down his chances, he says he will fight to defend his lead.
“Only two riders were able to follow Contador,” he said, referring to Evans and Spaniard Samuel Sanchez. “That means that the others, like me, didn’t have the legs. To be honest, I’m not even thinking of the podium but I’m not going to give it (the yellow jersey) away easily.”