Thomas Voeckler: “When the Tour de France comes to Brittany, it makes people happy…” – Tour de France 2021: the Grand Départ in Brittany

Thomas Voeckler, your first image of the Tour de France in Brittany?

The arrival in Quimper, in 2004. It was my fourth day with the yellow jersey on my shoulders, it was really bad weather and I managed to escape in the final. I was 25, I can see myself with my long sleeve jersey. I also remember the parade in Brest after the presentation of the teams during the 2008 Tour. There was a crazy world! At the same time, we are never disappointed in Brittany.

2004 is the start of Voecklermania. Are you still that popular?

Ah, you should ask people that. What is certain is that when you go slowly on a motorcycle, I am still very encouraged when I just have my buttocks on the seat (he laughs). Yes, there are still a lot of banners, encouragement for me. I experience it differently. Let’s say I’m more relaxed. When I was a runner, I was under the stress of competing. As I was a runner of character, I could appear withdrawn. Now I’m a lot cooler.

You have experienced two epics in a yellow jersey (ten days in 2004, ten days in 2011). Which did you like the most?

The one from 2011 because I remember it the most. 2004, I have the impression that it was from another time. And then, as I had already had the experience of the yellow jersey, I enjoyed more the second time. In 2011, it was also a superb human adventure. The first time, it hit me, I didn’t really realize the importance of the jersey.

Have you thought of winning the Tour de France?

No. But during the 2011 Tour, when I crossed the Luz Ardiden pass and the Plateau de Beille (in the Pyrenees) with the best, I told myself that I had to make a good place in Paris. That year, if I hadn’t done anything by running behind Contador and Schleck while the BMC team had things in hand behind, my place was on the second step of the podium. It’s like that… I would rather have let slip this second place on a strategic error than to have lost the Tour de France on it because I would never have recovered.

If I had been told that I would enjoy riding three times a week four years after retiring from sports, I would never have believed it. But the bike is so good for the head …

What is your best memory on the Tour?

Can’t get one out, sorry. Between my two epics in yellow, my four stage victories and my white jersey with red polka dots for best climber, it’s too difficult to choose. It’s so emotional. All my stage victories have a particular flavor: the first (in 2009 in Perpignan), I had been waiting for it for seven years and I obtained it on a course favorable to sprinters. The second (in Bagnères-de-Luchon the following year) is a high mountain stage. And, during the 2012, I was uncertain at the start due to knee pain and I won in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine and again in Bagnères-de-Luchon where I took the polka dot jersey. How to choose ?

Which life do you prefer?

The one before. I miss the competition. But the sacrifices that go with it, no. It would have to be done again, I would hang up the bike the day I did it (July 23, 2017 on the evening of his 15th Tour de France). But I really miss the adrenaline.

Are you still practicing?

Yes, I ride regularly. I also find myself going there with pleasure when I dragged my feet to go to training during my last season of competition. If I had been told that I would enjoy riding three times a week four years after retiring from sports, I would never have believed it. But the bike is so good for the head …

Let’s talk about the 2021 Tour. Which is your favorite?

Gerraint Thomas. With the strike force of the Ineos team and his comeback, I believe him capable of regaining the Tour. By his side on the final podium, I bet on Roglic and Pogacar. Afterwards, Julian Alaphilippe is so unpredictable, in a good way …

Is he capable of winning the Tour de France one day?

Yes. After what he demonstrated in 2019 (yellow jersey for 14 days, 5th in the general classification), he obviously has the means. That said, the envy must come from him and not from the French supporters. Clearly, he will have to run in a different way. In the years to come, maybe …

What to expect from Breton runners?

It would be a shame if David Gaudu didn’t get a great stage victory or the best climber’s jersey. He has the means. He will be able to evolve without pressure insofar as Groupama-FDJ is articulated around Arnaud Démare. It’s up to him to take advantage of it. He knows how to rub on the flat, he has progressed in the time trial, he also has the top 10 of the general classification in his legs. Between David Gaudu and Arnaud Démare, Valentin Madouas, meanwhile, will not lack work. Barguil, for his part, is quite capable of remaking the “Warren” for us as it was four years ago. 2017 was not in the last century!

Would you have liked to be at the start of this 2021 Tour?

No. On the other hand, I would have loved to run in the 80s, at the time of Bernard Hinault. Let’s say it was more romantic.

What is your best memory as a runner in Brittany?

My victory at the Grand Prix de Plouay (56), in 2007. In front of a hellish plateau, I managed to make the difference two kilometers from the finish. With the atmosphere that there was that day, I felt like I was in a football stadium. I have always loved running in Brittany. My story with cycling in mainland France started with you since when I was a child, I came with my Martinique club to prepare for the French championships in Brittany. Here, you can feel the people’s love for cycling. When the Tour de France comes to Brittany, it makes people happy …

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