Voeckler prays to keep yellow jersey in Lourdes

France: It would take a miracle for Thomas Voeckler to lose his lead in the Tour de France in Lourdes after the 152-km 13th stage on Friday, one of the shortest of the race.

The Frenchman, who leads Luxembourg`s Frank Schleck by 1:49 and Australia`s Cadel Evans by 2:06 overall, survived three gruelling climbs in Thursday`s first day in the Pyrenees and the classic Aubisque pass should not cost him the jersey as it is situated more than 40 km from the finish line.

"Everybody believed my Europcar team to be weak but the guys showed all day how strong they were," said Voeckler after finishing behind the favourites in the 12th stage.

The French outfit look solid enough to lead him safely to the finish unless the leading Tour contenders decide to attack before another demanding ride to Plateau de Beille on Saturday.

The Tour de France has stopped only twice in Lourdes and the most famous finish was in 1948 when Italy`s Gino Bartali won the stage.

A very devout man, Bartali, who won the Tour in 1938 and that year, sent a telegram to the Pope after his victory asking for special benediction for himself and his family.

After dinner, he went to the grotto where he kneeled down and prayed for help not to win the race but for protection against crashes.

Doubtless, riders in this Tour could say similar prayers.

Bureau Report