Friday, July 13, 2012

The valiant Mr. V - Tommy Voeckler

There are sportsmen who make things look extremely easy - Sachin with a cover drive, Kevin Durant doing his thing or an Alberto Contador gracefully dancing up a uncategorized climb. Then there are sportsmen like Thomas Voeckler.

When Tommy gets up a tough climb, you feel his pain. When he gets out of the saddle to push himself to the limit, your calf muscles start to hurt. When he flashes that victory smile, you feel a sense of relief that his pain is done for the day. And yet, he comes back for more - over, and over, and over.

Last year I watched in near shock as Pierre Rolland pulled Tommy Voeckler up with him on the Col du Galibier, a ride, that ensured that Voeckler retained the yellow jersey. A young Andy Schleck had mounted one of the most memorable and audacious attacks you would ever see from a cyclist. The experienced Aussie, Cadel Evans had delivered a gutsy (and eventually tour-winning)  ride that single-handedly made sure that Andy didn't get too far ahead of the field. Yet despite all this, one memory remains. An exhausted Voeckler with his arm around the young Rolland. The scene was such that it would have been completely understandable if Voeckler fainted immediately after (he didn't).

That in essence sums up Tommy Voeckler. He's not got the most pretty looking stroke on the bicycle. He won't make you go ooh when he gets out of his saddle like the disgraced Alberto Contador might. His "labrador-like" tongue (as @saddleblaze wrote recently) sticking out doesn't go well with the dinner you're eating. He isn't even like Rafael Nadal, whom you look at and know can keep on running forever. Instead, Thomas Voeckler always looks like he's an old auto running on fumes, desperately trying to compete with the BMW that just whizzed by him. Yet, there he is, winning a stage at the Tour De France.

Tommy Voeckler is one of the most popular cyclists around. One of the most popular in France. And it isn't hard to see why. Voeckler is the kind of underdog athlete you always want to see do well. The French of course expect him to do well in his home tour. But that pressure only stacks the odds against him even more. And yet he somehow finds a stage win here and a stint in the Maillot Jaune there. It warms the heart.

In the age of increased professionalism and scientifically designed training methods, athletes and sports-persons of the ilk of Thomas Voeckler who often seem to be portraying a dying duck while they seemingly pull off miracles are a dying species.  It's getting harder and harder to find true underdogs to cheer for. So when you find one, enjoy him.

"Heart" is often spoken about in American sport. The courage and the willingness to fight with everything you have. Nobody signifies that more valiantly than Tommy.

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