BELLEGARDE-SUR-VALSERINE, France – Thomas Voeckler nearly opted out of the Tour de France weeks ago because of an injured knee. Two days before the start, he was pained even more over allegations of doping by his French team.
On Wednesday, the crowd-pleasing Frenchman gave his response – by winning the 10th stage.
An in-your-face, trash-talking atmosphere dominated as riders entered the Alps on Wednesday with Bradley Wiggins retaining the yellow jersey by squashing attacks by rivals – one of whom complained that the Briton wasn’t being respectful.
The mood was decidedly sour before the 120.9-mile ride began along three hard climbs, after Tuesday’s rest day was marred by an arrest by French police of a Cofidis team rider over a Marseille doping probe.
Doping cases past and present have cast a shadow over this Tour.
Voeckler, too, was burdened by the issue of doping. Two days before the Tour start, a French newspaper brought to light a previously unknown probe of his Europcar team on allegations of improper use of a controlled corticoid by its riders during last year’s Tour – a claim the team vigorously denies.
Voeckler’s victory was “really special because we had criticism before the Tour, because it really hurt me,” he said.
His victory “is a part of my answer – not my revenge – an answer” to the critics.
Wiggins, too, and his Team Sky sent a message: Getting the yellow jersey off him won’t be easy.
At several points during the stage, Wiggins came under attack from his biggest rivals, but nearly all failed to make up any ground. Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali tried to surge ahead in a big descent, Belgium’s Jurgen Van Den Broeck attempted to jump ahead on the day’s big climb, and reigning champion Cadel Evans tried to shake Wiggins near the end – to no avail.