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The Roar

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Thanks Jens, but don't go too far away

Jens Voigt once held the hour record. (Photo by Joe Frost)
Expert
19th August, 2014
2

Nuts. Reckless. Foolish. Lost it. An ADHD case if ever there was one.

It’s not often you hear champion athletes described like that but those are just some of the words Bjarne Riis used when talking about Jens Voigt, during the excellent cycling documentary Overcoming.

This compelling movie took you inside the CSC team during the 2005 Tour de France. One of the DVD’s extras was a feature on Jens Voigt. It gives you an insight into what’s made the veteran German the fan fave he’s been for a large majority of his 17 years as a pro rider.

But sometime on Monday, the so called ‘King of Breakaways’ will cross the finish line for the last time, when he completes his duties for Trek Factory Racing at the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado. When Voigt does climb off his bike for the last time, a little piece of what makes cycling so wonderful will disappear forever. For me, there’s simply no one else like him in the sport.

Every sport needs its stars to inspire the next generation of athletes, and while Jens Voigt may not have the palmares of Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan, Andre Greipel or Tom Boonen, he’s every bit a star as them. Not so much for what he’s done on his bike but how he’s done it.

Assuming he doesn’t snare a typical break away victory in Colorado, Jens Voigt will end his career with 29 professional wins. Four of those have been in Grand Tours with two individual and one TTT at the Tour de France and one at the Giro D’Italia. Voigt’s last victory was just over a year ago at the Tour of California when he charged away on a small climb with five kilometres to go to win by just six seconds.

It was typical Jens Voigt, a rider who’s never changed his racing M.O.

“I got into trouble as a kid…too much energy,” Voigt said during the feature on Overcoming. “You got all this blood in your legs and nothing in your mind.”

“I’m not much of a head person, more of a belly and heart person.”

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Which is exactly how he races. Instinctively. When he sees someone is in trouble, Voigt attacks. When Voigt sees an opportunity, he’s gained 100m before anyone realises.

Just like Voigt did in the US Pro Challenge yesterday when he attacked inside the final 10 kilometres, only to be caught and eventually finish 22nd – 15 seconds behind stage winner Kiel Reijnen from the United Healthcare team.

‘I was itching to go already at the beginning. But the team said no, no, no. It’s still a bike race. It’s not the Jens Voigt show. It’s a bike race so I followed orders….and only attacked on the last lap.”
What a quote. And while other riders may do the same, no one does it like Jens ‘Shut Up Legs’ Voigt.

As Bjarne Riis said, Voigt may well be “reckless” and “nuts”, but I know I won’t be alone in missing that.

Every time I watch Voigt attack, I think how lucky I am to be seeing it but also how lucky he is to be doing it. Voigt estimates he’s had more than 100 crashes but few can be as scary as the one during the 2009 Tour de France.

Descending the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard during Stage 16, Voigt hit a bump and crashed heavily on his right side. His face took the full impact of the fall as he skidded along the road.

Unconscious for three to four minutes, Voigt could’ve easily died but somehow escaped with only a fractured cheekbone and concussion.

Personal experience has taught me that riding after a nasty crash is not quite the same. You’re a little more wary, and well aware of what crashing again on the same limb might do in terms of hurting yourself even more.

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But Voigt just seems to shrug it off.

“I just refuse to get controlled by fear.

“What keeps me going? I hate defeat. I hate to lose.”

So he has kept racing and (sometimes) winning.

But not after the USA Pro Challenge. Then it will be over.

You could imagine that after 17 years as a pro, with his palmares, Jens Voigt will be set for life. Far from it, he says.

With six kids to house, feed, clothe and educate, Voigt says he is “not a millionaire, swimming in cash.”

He lives in Germany, “paying his taxes” and while admitting he is “well off,” says he can’t live for five years without a job.

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So what comes next for the man who this year equalled the record for the most starts at the Tour de France (17), something he shares with his great mate Stuart O’Grady and George Hincapie?

Well for one, there’s a birthday on the horizon, when he turns 43. Then he has to “develop a plan” for what to do next.

It’s hard to imagine Voigt not coming back to cycling, and hopefully that’s where he’ll end up. It would be terrific if Voigt could help usher German TV back into the Tour de France, after their withdrawal over the doping scandals of the past decade. Maybe that will happen, but I really want to see him as a team director, calling the shots from the car. You would have to insist on a camera being in the car at all times.

How could that not be inspirational and fantastic? But how could it also not be completely crazy?

Sign him up I say. You can be sure though whatever Jens Voigt does, he’ll give 100 per cent.

As he says, “I don’t want to be bitter to the end of my life because I gave up quickly, too easily.” Chapeau Jens. Well played.

Enjoy the next phase of your life but make sure it’s not too long before you come back to cycling. It’s where you belong.

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