Frenchman Thomas Voeckler took a step towards a coveted appearance on the podium of the Tour de France after virtually securing the race's polka dot jersey Thursday. Voeckler has given his Europcar team two stage wins on the 99th edition, his most recent coming Wednesday when he won an epic mountain stage to a downhill finish in Bagneres-De-Luchon.
It was after that 16th stage that he took over the King of the Mountains jersey from Sweden's Fredrik Kessiakoff. On stage 17 Voeckler collected enough points to all but secure the climbers' coveted prize for the first time in his career.
"I started the stage calculating things in my head," said Voeckler, who now has an 11-point lead over Astana rider Kessiakoff. "But I never once said to myself that I'd secured the jersey. I knew I had
to go out and do a lot of work."
With five climbs to negotiate on the final day in the mountains Voeckler stuck close to Kessiakoff throughout. He finished ahead of the Swede on the Col de Mente to take 10 points, raced ahead to cross first ahead of Kessiakoff on the Col des Ares for five points and then took two to the Swede's one on the Cote du Burs. As the battle for the stage win was cranked up, Voeckler was left trailing on the difficult Port de Bales climb after eventual stage winner Alejandro Valverde attacked. But the Frenchman crossed over in sixth to take 10 points to eight for Kessiakoff. On the last climb neither was among the top six finishers at Peyragudes who were eligible for points. Voeckler, who is known for launching daring attacks, admitted he had had to change his style for the challenge.
"I had to stick on his wheel all day. It's not the way I like to race but I didn't have the choice."