by Joshua Hunt
Thomas Voeckler will not ride into Paris wearing the final leader’s jersey of the ninety-eighth Tour de France, but the host nation’s favorite son has already risen above the heights of any podium.
The Team Europcar rider’s Bastille Day heroics saw him boldly defend the beloved yellow tunic on a day when he was expected to falter in the shadow of this year’s first Pyrenean summit finish.
Hostilities commenced amongst the general classification contenders, and as Basso, Evans, Schleck and Contador turned their pedals in anger, Voeckler turned his on guts alone. Team Europcar, with an all-French roster that includes three Tour debutants, is short on experience, but gave everything in support of their leader, the man called Petit Blanc by his countrymen.
While they are paid to do so, their defense of Voeckler’s lead is all the more impassioned due to the fact that the Europcar team would not exist if not for him. The popular Frenchman stayed with Jean-Rene Bernaudeau’s Bbox team as they searched for a replacement sponsor, risking his career and passing up lucrative foreign contracts in the process. He was instrumental in the team’s securing new sponsorship with Europcar.
Voeckler rose to national fame after unexpectedly holding the maillot jaune for ten days in the 2004 Tour de France. While those youthful efforts were no less impressive, the Frenchman’s present turn in the yellow jersey is vastly more meaningful. The famous jersey, once a bright symbol of hope and triumph, now inspires more doubt than triumph, more anxiety than hope. The last man to ride into Paris in themaillot jaune may yet lose it to an unresolved doping conviction presently under appeal with the Court of Arbitrition in Sport.
The bright yellow tunic has faded to several shades of grey.
The maillot jaune may yet look grey on the top step of this year’s podium presentation in Paris, but for a handful of days in the middle of July, the yellow jersey shines brightly on the back of Thomas Voeckler. For the first time in recent memory, the maillot jaune represents more than just the leadership of the world’s biggest bicycle race.
You can follow Josh on twitter at @autofact, or on his blog - The Elements of Guile.