So, Mr. Voeckler, We Meet Again
I fell in love with Thomas Voeckler in 2004.
He was riding in the Alps, I was working at an ad agency. Needless to say, it didn’t work out. But we tried. We gave it everything we had.
He was in yellow and it blinded me because I wore black and had platinum hair. But he climbed! The little Frenchman climbed and won my heart. He took the jersey and held it. Like many, it gave him special powers and he suffered at its hands, even as it made him fly.
He went into the mountains and the sun beat down. His body pumped so much oxygen it seemed incredible. He unzipped the jersey and put his little French hands on the tops and climbed with urgency, as if I were standing at the top, waiting for him.
I wasn’t. But it didn’t matter because he kept the jersey for a 10th stage. And the Texan said, “Good job, little Frenchman.” and waited one more day to pull the Magic Yellow Shirt away to claim it for his own.
My mother doesn’t follow cycling, but if she did she would have called me and said, “He rode like a Patriot!”
Our Little League softball team was called the Patriots and we played with worn out gear and old uniforms. We played and we won and we never quit. We slid and bled and became heroes.
Like the Frenchman. Heroes.
We wore red, white (grayish white) and blue – but it could have been yellow. Or maybe it should have been yellow.
Either way, Voeckler rode into the mountains and stole my little Patriot heart. At least for 10 days in 2004. He was a no-name wanna-be-climber kid. A tiny man with the face of a child. He did the impossible and understood the impact. His face betrayed the amazement that I felt. It was a mid-tour interlude where we could stop thinking about the Texan and focus on the little man who was coming out of his skin with unfettered elation.
It was impeccable.
And then today I heard his name.
And the feelings came back.
I looked at Sal and said, “Voeckler! They better watch out – he has a magic forcefield, that one.”
And he did. The peloton came but they couldn’t touch him… he rode and gritted and pedaled and grimaced and gutted it out.
And he won.
Shaking his head across the line, in visible disbelief.
Kissing the ring of the woman he loves.
Hands to the sky, hiding nothing.
The magic of Voeckler is that he does not give in to the “cyclist’s cool”. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He relishes magic as it comes.
In the crushing world of charging sprinters and steely-faced GC boys, Voeckler is the tiny climber who attacked in the flat and confounded an entire field of the world’s best cyclists.
He’s the hail mary. The long ball in the bottom of the ninth.
He’s my little Frenchman in yellow. And he just made the 2009 Tour de France worth watching.
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