ANGERS, France (AP) Thomas Voeckler stuck out his tongue in his trademark way, determined to give the thousands of fans lining up the roads something to cheer about on a rather dull stage at the Tour de France.
After two days of racing marred by several crashes in difficult weather conditions, the peloton took it easy and rode at pedestrian pace during Monday's long and flat 223.5-kilometer stretch between Granville and Angers in the Loire valley.
The race did not really get going until Voeckler joined another French rider, Armindo Fonseca, in a long breakaway.
''Fortunately Voeckler made the stage explode,'' said Julian Alaphilippe, who is second overall, eight seconds behind race leader Peter Sagan.
Fonseca broke away from the pack right after the start and rode for 140 kilometers on his own before Voeckler made his move and joined his fellow countryman with 83 kilometers to go.
Voeckler's attack sparked a reaction from the pack, ensuring a nervous and spectacular finale as sprinters' teams started to close the gap. It also earned him the day's prize for the most combative rider.
''It was boring,'' said Voeckler, a winner of four Tour de France stages in his career. ''I tried to make the stage a bit more interesting. I wanted to go for a fight, to have some fun.''
The 37-year-old veteran, who started his professional career in 2001 and wore the yellow jersey for 10 stages in 2011, has always been a fans' favorite - with or without his tongue hanging out. On Monday, he again showed that he has not lost his knack for attention-grabbing.
''I'm not sure I still have 10 Tours to ride, so I wanted to ride with panache,'' said Voeckler, who also wore the yellow jersey for 10 stages in 2004.
Once the sprinters' teams really started chasing, Fonseca and Voeckler couldn't hold onto their lead and got reined in as the peloton devoured the final eight kilometers at a frenetic pace. Briton Mark Cavendish pipped German rider Andre Greipel at the line for the stage win after a photo finish.
Voeckler's teammate Bryan Coquard ended third in the sprint, and that was enough to console Voeckler for his efforts.
''That was the biggest satisfaction of the day,'' he said.