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Just so nobody feels the need to point out the obvious, let’s make one thing clear up front: Voeckler has very little chance of keeping the yellow jersey all the way to Paris next Sunday. Even he is insisting that he has no chance of winning, regardless of what anyone else says.
What if, by some chance, he keeps up this show of defiance for just one more week, and holds off the best climbers in the world through the Alps’ most punishing climbs? It would send shockwaves through the sport and would make Voeckler a national hero.
And, in my opinion, it would be an uncategorically positive thing for professional cycling. In fact, it might be the best thing that could happen to a sport tainted by a never-ending string of doping scandals. There are two basic reasons behind this sentiment:
- Voeckler’s lack of superhuman qualities
- Voeckler’s strikingly different attitude
I could rattle off and describe in detail a long list of specific moments during Lance Armstrong’s 7 years of Tour dominance that still give me chills down my spine (Le Grand Bornand in 2004, Luz Ardiden in 2003, L’Alpe d”Huez almost every time he climbed it, etc.).
But ever since 2006 — when Floyd Landis suffered an epic collapse on stage 16, bounced back with an improbable victory in stage 17, won the Tour and then was stripped of the title because he’d tested positive for synthetic testosterone during that stage 17 victory — I’ve come to view all such amazing feats with suspicion. Like many other fans, I’ve come to accept that if a cyclist puts on a performance that doesn’t seem humanly possible, it might be because it’s not — at least not naturally.
And here’s what I like about Voeckler — he hasn’t produced any stunning moments. His 2011 Tour is not the stuff of highlight reels. Indeed, he’s still wearing the maillot jaune as much because of gritty determination as incredible talent or ability. There’s nothing about his performance that would even cause you to wonder if he might be doping.
Voeckler’s Different Attitude
Because simply finishing the Tour de France is an extraordinary feat that only the fittest of athletes can contemplate, the race naturally gives rise to some big egos among those elite riders at the front of the peloton. Thomas Voeckler is not one of them.
Indeed, although he has been the face of determination and perseverance this last week, his comments suggest that he has rejected the “Win at any cost, even your honour” mentality that has propelled some of the greats to stardom, and has no doubt encouraged many to turn to banned substances and other dangerous doping practices.
But the contrast between Voeckler and the riders of almost mythical stature is most strikingly evident in an incident that happened long before his recent denial that he could ever possibly even think about winning the Tour:
In 2004 Voeckler and the famously arrogant Armstrong were both involved in a crash in the 6th stage of the Tour. Armstrong, as he so often did, took the opportunity to chastise the Tour organizers for their lack of foresight in preventing crashes. Voeckler, meanwhile, said he was glad he hadn’t injured Armstong during the crash.
In all probability, Voeckler will lose the yellow jersey this week, either to the increasingly unloveable Alberto Contador; to Andy Schleck, who is undoubtedly the future of the Tour; or to Andy’s brother Frank Schleck. Any of those would be a champion the Tour deserves.
But Voeckler is the champion the Tour needs.