(Photo: Roberto Bettini)
Thomas Voeckler handed the host country their first reason to celebrate on this year's Tour de France when he claimed his maiden victory from the race's fifth stage on Wednesday. Saxo Bank's Fabian Cancellara retained the race leader's yellow jersey with a 0.22sec lead over American Lance Armstrong ahead of Thursday's sixth stage from Gerona to Barcelona in Spain.
Voeckler, who famously wore the yellow jersey for 10 days in 2004, launched an attack in the first kilometers of the 196.5km stage from Cap d’Agde, which led to six riders building maximum lead of around 10 minutes on the bunch. In the final 4.8km as the peloton left it too late to close the gap Voeckler stunned the three remaining breakaway companions after he dropped down a gear and launched an unassailable drive for the finish.
Having struggled to live up to his famous yellow jersey spell since 2004, Voeckler was only too happy to get the monkey off his back. "I've been chasing this victory for so long!" said Voeckler, who is only just finding real form having broke his collarbone only 10 days before Armstrong at the Paris-Nice race in March.
"I crashed and broke my collarbone 10 days before Armstrong did. We were both racing at the Giro d'Italia but it was hard race for me. This is really the proof that if you work hard and stick to it, the victories will come."
Cancellara finished with all the race favorites, whom Britain's Mark Cavendish, in the points competition's green jersey, drove over the finish line 07secs behind Voeckler. The Swiss has now set a national record for wearing the race's yellow jersey, a fact that he is more than proud of.
"It's great," said Cancellara. "Whether we'll keep it tomorrow or the day after is another story but to wear the yellow jersey every day like this in France makes me happy, and very proud."
When asked specifically if he was worried about Armstrong getting the yellow jersey, Cancellara said, "I think I'm strong enough to keep the jersey. I think I've shown now for a few weeks that my form is here and I feel like I'm getting better and better as the race goes on. We're looking forward to the Pyrenees and the next two stages. We'll watch tomorrow in the start what's going on. A breakaway could go like today and people will have to ride."
Saxo Bank and Astana chased but couldn't couldn't catch Voeckler
(Photo: Roberto Bettini)
Throughout the stage Cancellara's Saxo Bank and Armstrong's Astana were among the teams worked in conjunction with the sprinters' teams - both to close the gap and to try and leave some of their respective rivals behind. That tactic caused problems for some riders - including Dutchman Robert Gesink, who was forced to dig deep to keep up after a nasty crash.
His team leader at Rabobank, Tour of Italy champion Denis Menchov, was also caught in one of the several groups that had formed because they could not keep pace as Saxo Bank and Astana drove the pace hard. The Russian eventually made it back to the main peloton, but once again his yellow jersey credentials were tested to the full. Gesink, who is set for a hospital scan, trailed in second from last at 9:35.
With 38.7 km to race the peloton had closed the gap to just 46secs but this time they met with a headwind and that was the closest they got to the frontrunners. "I thought we'd be caught in the final 30km," added Voeckler. "Then when I heard through my race radio that Astana were leading the chase with Saxo Bank I knew the wind conditions must have changed and that the sprinters' teams had lost interest. "That's when I knew we had a chance."
Voeckler helped drive the break before charging ahead for the victory
(Photo: Roberto Bettini)
Their lead increased again, and only began dropping in the final 10km when Mikhail Ignatiev, of Katusha, first tested his breakaway companions with an acceleration inside the closing 6.5km, which Voeckler easily chased down. When the Russian tried again Voeckler let FDJeux pair Yauheni Hutarovich and Anthony Geslin do the work before he launched his attack coming up the inside of a roundabout with around 4.8km to race.
In the last kilometers Albert Timmer of Skil-Shimano went off on an ambitious counter-attack but the young Dutchman was soon struggling. Ignatiev eventually finished second, just ahead of Cavendish, his sprint rivals and all the main favorites.Stage 4: July 8, Le Cap d'Agde to Perpignan
1. Thomas Voeckler (FRA/BBO) 4hr 29min 35sec (average: 43,734 km/h)
2. Mikhail Ignatiev (RUS/KAT) @ 0:07sec
3. Mark Cavendish (IDM/THR) @ s.t.
4. Tyler Farrar (USA/GRM)
5. Gerald Ciolek (GER/MRM)
6. Danilo Napolitano (ITA/KAT)
7. Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP/GCE)
8. Lloyd Mondory (FRA/ALM)
9. Oscar Freire (ESP/RAB)
10. Thor Hushovd (NOR/CTT) Overall Classification After Stage 5
1. Fabian Cancellara (SWI/SAX) 15hr 07min 49sec
2. Lance Armstrong (USA/AST) @ 0:00
3. Alberto Contador (ESP/AST) @ 0:19
4. Andreas Kloden (GER/AST) @ 0:23
5. Levi Leipheimer (USA/AST) @ 0:31
6. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/GRM) @ 0:38
7. Haimar Zubeldia (ESP/AST) @ 0:51
8. Tony Martin (GER/THR) @ 0:52
9. David Zabriskie (USA/GRM) @ 1:06
10. David Millar (GBR/GRM) @ 1:07Other Classifications
Green Jersey: Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC)
Polka Dot Jersey: Jussi Veikkanen (Francaise des Jeux)
White Jersey: Tony Martin (Columbia-HTC)