Voeckler: the Showman… and his Secret Nickname

Voeckler Polka Dot

In the Tour de France podium ceremonies Thomas Voeckler stood out. Bradley Wiggins and Peter Sagan were futuristic riders, one with scientific approach, the other with the future before him. Voeckler by contrast seems a rider from the old school, you can imagine him with goggles and a tub wrapped across his chest like the early days.

Thomas Voeckler

But he’s really not so old-fashioned. He’s a rider for the age of television. And everyone who knows him calls him “Francis”, a reference to a violent character from the 1990s film Trainspotting by Danny Boyle. Why? All is revealed below.

It’s true Voeckler is of another era at times. He rides without a power meter, he doesn’t even have a heart rate monitor to measure his effort and if sponsorship means a small bike computer sits on his stem, you wonder if he cares about using it. Ideas of riding at a pre-set threshold dictated by the team coach don’t exist, his face alone suggests he’s crossing the pain threshold all the time.

He once said in an interview that he’ll base his training on the wind direction, heading out to ensure a tailwind home if he wants an easy ride, or in search of crosswinds and headwinds if he wants more of a workout.

But he’s a showman too. The ever-changing face, the constant fidgeting on the bike, a lot of it is for TV, he could try this routine in days of old. After he won the mountains jersey he started the stage to Brive – won by Cavendish – in full polka-dot kit, from his helmet to his socks not to mention the bike. He looked like a cartoon character with measles but it’s all good publicity. As they approached the finish he sat up and let himself cross the finish line behind the bunch in order to let the crowd spot him and hopefully get speaker Daniel Mangeas to call his name.

He’s popular with the French – two stage wins and a jersey, no wonder – but has fewer friends in the peloton. He’s a showboat and if you imagine the peloton as a community, this peacock-like activity frequently annoys man. His constant attempts to look tired, minutes before he rides away for the win frustrate other riders. Some Spanish riders call him “Hollywood” because he acts so much. But if the act doesn’t fool people that often, it still seems to frustrate and perhaps disturbing his rivals plays a part here, it saps their mental strength.

Francis Begbie Voeckler
Voeckler is not Thomas to his team mates and friends. Instead everyone calls him “Francis”. If he’s known in public by his real name, when the race radio is crackling, when the team briefing is on, it’s Francis for everyone.

Why? Well if he attacks on the road today, in times past he could try more conventional means of violence, a night out could end in him getting involved in a fight, although he says it was to defend his friends. At the same time the film Trainspotting, by Danny Boyle, was out in the cinemas and in no time they started calling him “Francis” in tribute to a psychopath character Francis Begbie.

Warning: the clip has language to make Bradley Wiggins blush.

73 thoughts on “Voeckler: the Showman… and his Secret Nickname”

  1. Voeckler impressed me more this year then last, but I still have a hard time truly liking him after seeing him looking around for an official’s car and when none were around getting a tow from his team car. The camera looked away just as the tow was about to begin, but you could tell it was taking place.

  2. Sick Boy may have been applicable as well. Dodgy knee and all. Thanks a million for posting this. It brightened up my day, which was much needed

  3. Amazing rider in a breakaway – his conversion rate is staggering but I have to say I cannot stand him and his facial gurning and other attention-seeking antics. Also, why wear bibshorts as short as hot pants? Hate ’em.

  4. To quote my dad: “That Vokelear French dud looks like a jockey.”

    Personally, I’m not a huge Hollywood Tommy fan. I respect him as a rider I guess, but when I am out riding and things start getting tough, my mantra is “Don’t look like Voeckler, Don’t look like Voeckler.” I could do without the antics.

  5. The boyz on RAI often call him “T Blanc” which has something to do with being the only white guy when he rode in a place where all the other riders were black. Do you know the rest of the story? While some of his antics can be corny (just like Il Pistolero’s cornball finish-line antics) at least this guy TRIES to do something instead of riding around trying not to lose. Pro cycling would be more interesting if there were a few more characters who rode and trained on their feelings rather than what the power meter says or what the DS is yelling in their ear. Love him or hate, him he at least demonstrates some humanity and personality rather than radio-controlled efficiency.

    • Larry, he was nicknamed ‘[pe] ‘tit blanc’ growing up in Martinique, being small and, er, white. Hence the name.
      Begbie would be an ever better nickname. Imagine it in a French accent. Terrifying.

      • That’s right, he grew up in the French West Indies and “ti” is the local slang for “petit” or small and blan is “blanc” or white. So he was “lil’ white” if you want. Cycling is very popular on the island and he started racing there. L’Equipe did a feature on him 3 weeks ago with photos from his teenage years, he had the same position on the bike as he does today, elbows out.

  6. He certainly animated the race for the Polka-dots, but you have to admit his stage 16 finishing line salute was over the top, even for Hollywood. What was it, 300 maybe 400 meters from the finish with arms wide, touched the bars for the corner then arms wide again until well past the finish line? As if to say, “Yes! I’m the magnificent Tommy Voeckler. The hero of an adoring French public. Love me!”

    • What would you do LDR99 if you won a stage at the TdF and knew you weren’t gonna caught in the last Km, had a thousands of fans around cheering you on and were full of emotion/adrenaline?
      Just roll across the line with a simple wave?

      Any stage winner has earned the right to do whatever they want as they cross the line, whether it’s Sagan’s running man, Rolland’s bike lift or Tommy’s dragged out raised arms.
      I only wish I had the chance to decide what I’d do…

      • I just got an image of the Queen crossing the finishing line doing that little polite wave. Tom may have something with the weirdo alert. Vive le Voeck

    • As I said to my friends, if someone finishes 2 minutes ahead of the field, he can ride around in circles high-fiving the crowd for 1:45 of it (or a full 1:59 if the rider feels like really living dangerously) as far as I’m concerned.

      • A hearty +1 to NickV, Anonymous and Mr Bad Example.

        Voeckler is a French cyclist, winning a stage of the world’s biggest bike race in his home country. Can he not celebrate as he feels appropriate? Or should he just bow his head modestly and silently count the sheckels?

        On the one hand people bemoan a lack of spectacle, of a “boring” race and domination by Sky and the “robotic” Bradley Wiggins; then they can’t abide Voeckler’s expressiveness or Sagan’s comic celebrations. There’s no pleasing some people…

        Riders like Voeckler, LL Sanchez, the FDJ Breakaway Collective and all the other ‘characters’ give the race a bigger dimension than merely the GC, which is really only an option for a tiny proportion of similarly talented riders. Why not accept Tommy as he is instead of wanting to mould him to be like you? While I don’t suggest you learn to love him, but learn to appreciate that he is what he is. Otherwise you’ll only spoil your own enjoyment of every race, every hard-fought win. What a miserable way to follow a sport!

    • I like Voeckler and the way he animates a race. I like his attacking and opportunistic style. I even like his mugging for the camera through out the day. And I like finishing line panache (including Sagan’s crazy dances), Sastre with his daughter’s binkie and Flecha with his drawn bow. Even Contador and the silly Pistolero routine. The enthusiasm of Pinot celebrating with Madiot in the car going crazy is priceless. These guys have earned it and the enthusiastic celebrations add color and excitement to the race. And just plain fun.

      Still, to me, Voeckler’s messianic arrival in Stage 16 shows not the excitement and enthusiasm of a sterling effort and great result on a difficult stage, but more of a sense of “The Great One has Arrived”. Something like TO in the end zone pulling out a sharpie and autographing the ball.

      But then I have an peculiar taste in music as well.

  7. i really enjoy his famous showmanship and admire how he intuitively measures his bodies efforts when cycling.
    i still cant believe i fell for the “dodgy knee” story….that`s some quality method acting right there.

    if he fights like he acts i see him more a “capt James T Kirk” than a “Francis Begbie”.

  8. For my generation (definitely older than the peloton), the crazy Francis was a character in the Bill Murray film “Stripes.” Kind of funny that both screenwriters chose the same name.

  9. I know he can be a bit annoying at times, but I’m glad that Tommy realises what pays his salary.
    Good on Wiggins for winning the Tour in a methodical way, but it really was dull to watch. Victories dont really help team budgets get bigger compared to having more people watching the sport.

  10. I like Tommy V. I like everything about his racing. He has to outfox the stronger riders and he knows it. His bag of tricks is worn and well known but he still manages to win and win big too.

    Without the climbers jersey this year was there even a race going on? Non!

    I miss the polka dot jersey being important.

  11. To those who spoke so loud and bad about him……I wonder you even win any stage in any races in your dreams……let alone Tour de France. And to the guy’s father who says he looked more like a jockey, I bet you won’t get a chance to accomplish 1% of what he has achieve in your next next next life times!

  12. I read elsewhere that Voeckler refers to himself as a “baroudeur” or “a fighter for lost causes” (at least by the translation I got), because he maintains that he is an average sprinter, climber, and time trialist so he has to be unpredictable to get a leg up on the better riders.

    Obviously he’s sandbagging a little here, but I love a rider with that much swash in his buckle (or is it that much buckle in his swash?)

  13. Come on guys, its called Panache. Plus he just got a hole write up on the Inner Ring out of it. Sounds like a good deal to me. Any rider can win a stage, but not everyone can do it with Style. Just like we are still talking about Sagan’s victory salutes, but not about Grieples (spelling).

    • Now Sagans victory salutes I liked, as a previous poster said, if you’ve got enough time to do some elaborate salute then go for it :o) Particularly liked his running man

  14. The Belgian and Dutch media are always talking about the fact that “no one likes Voeckler but he wins”. I can’t find out why no one likes him, but maybe the “Hhollywood” part during a race might be it?
    But riders hate themselves for the fact that they always buy the play of Voeckler and get surprised by him over and over again. Or is it something else?

    • Voeckler says that he is hated because of his attacking style – other riders will relax and go “ah, no one is going to try to get off the front on this stretch” – and Voeckler figures the only way he can win is to do the unexpected, so that’s where he will try to get off the front.

  15. Can’t stand him. As Stephen Roche said on Eurosport, respect the athlete, dislike the man.
    His riding oozes panache, but little acts like milking the applause as he comes across the line in the grupetto are a bit pathetic. He’s a tart.

    • I think that sums up my feelings towards him too.

      Some riders have panache but come across as serious pros with respect for their competitors. I have much more admiration for people like Chavannel, LL Sanchez, Jeremy Roy, Hoogerland, De Gendt etc.

      Voeckler comes across as a clown.

    • it was Carlton Kirby who interpreted Voeckler’s faces and talking to himself more like he’s arguing with himself in his own head. that constant battle doesn’t leave him any energy for being cordial to the other riders. that seems plausible piece of Francis’ puzzle as well.

      aaah, Begbie.

  16. Agree with everyone, Voeckler animated an otherwise dull race-by-numbers race. I think everyone also enjoyed Sagan’s wins.

    INRNG, maybe you could do a piece on how Froome was able to decimate the entire peloton on only three months of training? I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s curious.

    Great blog, I’m sure I speak for almost everyone when I say “Thank you”!

    • It’s a bit hard as I’d need to do interviews on training and nobody is going to give me this. As for three months, I don’t know where you got this from but he’s been training for longer – seen it myself – and yes illness got in the way but he has been riding. But then again, assuming you start in decent shape, three months is plenty to get into shape too.

        • You’re infering a lot there Joseph. All the analysis I’ve seen suggests 5.8W/kg for Froomey over an hour which is not demolishing but is very good. However, in the ‘olden’ days would have had Armstrong staring him out as he rode away in to the distance not so long ago.

          His training camps from his SKY blog diary, as INRNG suggests, are him getting getting back in to top Vuelta ’11 ‘shape’, after a couple of mishaps (relatively short recurring illness and injury) rather than going from (bed bound) no fitness to hero.

  17. “skitterywinter July 24, 2012 at 9:01 pm
    where else but the inner ring blog would we find details like this.”

    French TV were calling him Francis for pretty much the whole Tour; the nickname became public because a TF2 reporter made a daily film about life in the Europcar team.

    “Mr Bad Example July 25, 2012 at 5:54 am
    I read elsewhere that Voeckler refers to himself as a baroudeur”

    It’s not unique to him, it’s a standard term; in cycling it translates best as “a scrapper,” I think. Someone who never gives up, and is always prepared to fight for a win. Sagan suits the name well.

    With regards him being not liked in the peloton, I think it is his playing to the camera that annoys the other riders. That, and the fact that it’s impossible for Thierry Adam, the main commentator in France, to refer to him without adding “le chouchou (the darling) of the French public” almost every time. It drives a person mad.

    But then, the peloton don’t like Cavendish either. They’re a jealous, snidey, bitchy bunch as a rule. And as Jalabert said on TV during the final stage, when Thierry Adam mentioned this – snootily – during the final stage, “Who cares what the peloton thinks? We’re here to race, not make friends – it’s not a holiday camp. If you come to make friends, you don’t win.”

  18. That’s a hilarious bit of insight into Voekler’s nickname and past. Begbie is one of the all time classic characters in film – many people can identify with the friend they’re stuck with due to a shared childhood, but who’s now an utter liability. Credit should go to Irvine Welsh, who wrote the Trainspotting book though, rather than Danny Boyle who put Welsh’s characters on screen. I can thoroughly recommend the book too – the characters are much more developed than in the film, particularly there’s much more detail and background on what a uniquely nutty character Begbie is.

  19. i’ve heard TiTi and le Chouchou (Sweetheart) … Francis is a new one … although it might have been clearer to just call him Begbe? at least then you know which Francis they’re referring to?

  20. Love (not really) all the armchair quarterbacks on here, bemoaning TV’s style. Like we’re the arbiters of style for a bunch of guys who get paid to do what we do for giggles.

    Like him or not, that kid is a winner. He races, he competes, he wins. Douche or not, he races his bike and entertains us all. You may not like it, but you don’t particularly count.

  21. I have a hard time giving a hard time to a guy who took way less money to stay with a non-Pro Tour team in order to keep a team he loved alive. And to the antics, head to toe polka-dots etc? The dude gets more out of less than probably anyone else in cycling. Chapeau, Francis!

    • p.s. was it not the great Henie Kuiper who said something about “finishing off everybody else’s plate before starting your own”? You do the best with what you brought, that’s cycling.

  22. Thank GOD for Tommy V. As opposed to the clinical style of SKY and the other “competitive” teams his riding was a ray of light. This Tour could have used 20 more of him. And the man? I’ve met him, completely down to earth and what about his wife and baby following the race in a camping car. That’s grounded. This sport would be far less rich without him.

    And regarding facial expressions… Remember Lance Armstrong’s blood doped “look?”

  23. Tommy is entertaining. All professional sports exist as a business in the field of entertainment. He is a very good performer; both for his ready for prime time acting as well as his skill at getting into the right place at the right time. He’s spent a lot of time in the yellow jersey because he got into the right break. And he’s a major threat to win the stage from any break he’s in. He’s strong, smart, gutsy and exciting. Animated, never riding like a robot or science experiment. The only thing noteworthy about Wiggles the whole tour long was his psycho outburst at the press.

    I don’t like every comedian or actor out there but I can respect a good performance. Little Tommy gives you your money’s worth. He’s not the best climber, but he worked hard and rode smart for a specific prize and got his commercial sponsors tons of exposure. His sponsors surely got their money’s worth. I think that’s what you call a bankable star.

  24. Nobody has mentioned it yet. but after having looked at the photo for a while, it finally came to me. Doesn’t Voeckler look like Tom Arnold in that photo? Just sayin’

    Voeckler was great to watch this Tour, he made my day when he did his trademark gecko-style lip licking for the camera. Awesome. He did just fine, especially when he rode “sans earpiece”, his determination was great. Who knows what percentage of it is theatrics, but he added quite a bit of life to an otherwise calculated race.

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