BELLEGARDE-SUR-VALSERINE, France -- Come July and the Tour de France, race fans can always count on a few things: spotting roadside sunflowers, cringing at first-week crashes, and witnessing Thomas Voeckler stick his nose in the wind on the attack.
Despite almost pulling out of the race just after the Grand Depart in Liége because of tendinitis in his knee, Voeckler was among a 25-man breakaway that attacked early in the stage.
He led over the first hors categorie climb of the 99th Tour -- the Col du Grand Colombier -- to take the lead in the king of the mountains classification, then was voted the most aggressive rider of the 10th stage. But it wouldn't be a signature 'Tommy V' attack if he didn't also finish the job.
Of the 25 men in the early break, the best was Voeckler. The Frenchman has an uncanny ability to add flare and drama to his days in the saddle. The French adore him, and he duly responded to their cheers Wednesday, as he always seems to do. His efforts over the climbs may have earned him the polka dot jersey, but he admitted his stage win was harder to come by.
"I really didn't think I would win the stage until I was about five meters from the finish line," said a beaming Voeckler. "I was in extreme pain at the end. The only thing that kept me going was that I knew the others were feeling the same."
Voeckler's victory on stage 10 into Bellegarde-sur-Valserine was the third stage win of his Tour career, after his victories in Perpignan in 2009 and Luchon in 2010.
His gentle kiss to fans as he crossed the line gave a hint of how tired the usually animated Voeckler was. But his typical exuberance returned just moments later.
"I'm really satisfied; I really enjoyed the moment because I really had bad moments before the Tour," he said. "I spent eight days without riding; I only started training the Monday before the Tour. Obviously, I didn't expect the legs to be so good. One thing, the legs need to be good, but to win the stage and take this jersey, it's really a nice moment. I really enjoy it."
Of course, he has created for himself the reputation of a determined, stubborn fighter. We expect him to turn himself inside out -- or at least die trying -- to hold onto a jersey once he's wrapped it around his shoulders.
We saw it in last year's Tour when Voeckler held onto the yellow jersey for 10 days, despite the naysayers, finally relinquishing the fabled golden tunic only after the finish L'Alpe d'Huez. We saw it in 2004 when he wore the yellow jersey for, yes, 10 days, finally succumbing to none other than Lance Armstrong in the French Alps.
It isn't the yellow jersey that he captured today, but after the setback before the Tour that had him resting rather than riding, he'll take it. And fight to keep it as only he can.
"For the moment I enjoy [this jersey]. For sure I will fight, but I have 28 points," he said. "The guy who will have this jersey in Paris will have about 150 or 180 points. Tomorrow, after the first climbs, another guy -- or maybe me -- will match those 28 points. We'll wait and see; it's really hard to keep it."
No doubt; but we all know who is the best man for the job.