MONTPELLIER, France, (Reuters) – With a week left in the Tour de France, only one person is absolutely convinced that Frenchman Thomas Voeckler cannot win the race in Paris – Voeckler himself.
The yellow jersey holder, who fought on an equal footing with the leading Tour contenders in the Pyrenees, has received the support of the best riders in the sport, from Lance Armstrong to Alberto Contador.
“For sure Voeckler is a contender. His shape is unbelievable and he has great support from his team,” said three-times Tour champion Contador at the end of the 15th stage in Montpellier yesterday. “I am several minutes behind him and it will be hard to take them back.”
On Saturday, which featured the final Pyrenees stage, Armstrong also spoke up for the Frenchman on his Twitter feed, saying: “If Voeckler makes it to the top with the leaders today then we have to say he can win the TdF. He’s got two minutes and they can’t shake him.”
The Frenchman should be confident, leading closest rival Frank Schleck of Luxembourg by one minute 49 seconds and Australia’s Cadel Evans by 2:06 after Sunday’s stage.
Yet Voeckler himself is not so sure.
“It’s flattering but I don’t believe it for a second to be honest,” he said. “I’m going to fight for sure, but I can’t be dishonest – I believe I have zero chance to win the Tour de France.”
Never regarded as a great climber or all-rounder in spite of many prestigious victories in his career, including two Tour stages, Voeckler seems to have reached new heights at 32.
He feels, however, that the final week in the Alps will be too hard for him to keep his rivals at bay.
“It would be a great joy to follow the best in the Alps, but I don’t feel I’m up to the task in the high mountains,” he said.
“There is still a week to go and the whole Tour has been designed for this last week to be decisive.
“I know that France has been waiting for a French win since (Bernard) Hinault (in 1985) and for a podium since Richard Virenque (second in 1997), but I’m not going to lie to the public; I cannot tell them I have a chance to win.”