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Voeckler Takes Emotional Yellow Jersey
11 Jul, 2011
Seven years after wearing the fabled maillot jaune for 10 days in 2004, Thomas Voeckler is once again on the summit of the Tour de France. While the former national champion did not have the legs to take the stage victory in Saint-Flour, he was rewarded for his hard work and dedication with one of the most highly sought-after prizes in cycling: the yellow jersey.

The Team Europcar leader broke clear of the peloton after 35km of racing and was followed by five riders on the first of eight lower category climbs. The escapees soon built up a lead of four minutes before it looked like the pack were reeling them in. But a large crash in the peloton involving Astana's Alexandre Vinokourov and Omega Pharma-Lotto's Jurgen van den Broeck prompted a slowing down in the bunch and saw Voeckler's group increase their lead to seven minutes.

With Dutchman Niki Terpstra (Quick Step) dropped, Voeckler continued to work hard with his fellow breakaway companions - compatriot Sandy Casar (FDJ), Spaniards Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky), and the Dutchman Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil).

But the dynamic changed once again following a shocking incident with 38km left to ride when a French TV car clipped Team Sky's Juan Antonio Flecha from behind while trying to overtake on a narrow road. Flecha was sent sprawling into fellow escapee Hoogerland, who in turn was thrown off the road and into a barbed wire fence. Both riders completed the stage more than 16 minutes down on the winner Sanchez - although a bloodied Hoogerland could at least celebrate regaining the polka dot jersey after amassing enough points over the first six of eight lower-category climbs on the agenda.

The remaining trio of riders pressed on to the finish, aware that their lead of four minutes could well be diminished over the final two fourth-category climbs of the day. But with 10km left to ride, the Garmin-Cervelo team of overnight leader Thor Hushovd decided to abort their chase.

Entering Saint-Flour Voeckler knew the yellow was his, but the dynamic all-rounder still showed the hunger to add to his two previous Tour stage wins of 2009 and 2010. Sanchez proved too strong in the final spring, edging clear to beat Voeckler by five seconds and Casar by a further 10 seconds. With the peloton being led over the line by green jersey Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 3:59 in arrears - and Norway's Hushovd finishing the hilly stage 6:47 off the pace - Voeckler's yellow jersey was confirmed.

Voeckler is now 1:49 ahead of Sanchez in the overall standings. Pierre Rolland, 27th, Anthony Charteau, 40th and Cyril Gautier, 48th, all finished strongly and limited their losses over the line.

On Tuesday, Voeckler will experience his 11th day in yellow - something matched by only two other Frenchmen in the past 30 years: the great Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon. It's no wonder Thomas shed a few tears as he was awarded his prize on the podium - it was the emotion of a true champion.

Click to enlarge...
A happy Tommy Voeckler

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