ODGEN, Utah (VN) — His is a wisdom that comes from racing 10,000 kilometers a year. In crashing. In wearing a maillot jaune. In carrying bottles. In attacking. And Jens Voigt will add to it for another year.
The German mentioned casually on Monday before the start of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah that he would return to the peloton next season. “Yep,” he said. “I still have the motivation for it. And, yep, I’m going to do one more year.”
Yep. The Jensie. For another season.
What convinced him? What else — attacking in the Tour de France, after he doubted his chances of making the Tour roster earlier in the season.
“I realized, even though I hate to say it or admit it, that age is catching up. I try my best to ignore the fact that I’m getting older and kick the age back, but the age is creeping up on me,” he said Monday.
Then, he rode the Tour, where he jumped in breaks and nearly won a stage in the Alps.
“For what my role was in this Tour de France, what I did — maybe I’m even allowed to say I overdid the expectations on me,” he said. “That gave me the confidence and the self belief that, ‘I think I still have it.’”
Voigt backs off the descents a bit now. The risks aren’t worth it. He knows them well and the images of his 2009 crash on the descent from Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard burn in our collective memories.
“You get older, you’ve got six children, and you just don’t want to be cripple when you get out of the sport. After all, it’s still a sport,” he said. “It’s not like that — you know, the history of a whole nation depends on it.”
In the twilight of a career, there comes a moment when it’s too dark to see what once was brilliant. It’s this that Voigt is acutely aware of, and plans on missing. The world is full of people who should have hung it up sooner.
“I’m actually intelligent enough to realize I’m not here anymore to perform, to win 10 stages or 10 races a year,” he told VeloNews.
“I had a long career and good career. And you don’t want to have your last year, have people talking behind your back, ‘Oh, yea, that’s Jensie, he was good before, but he’s hopeless. He should have stopped one year before. He missed it.’ I don’t want that,” he said.
After riding the 2012 Tour de France’s first individual time trial, Voigt sat under a tree in the shade. Asked if he really would let cobwebs dangle on his bike after he retired, he said, “Shit yeah. Do you know how much I’ve suffered?” He said he’d try origami, literally. Or fishing. Maybe rollerblading. But he’s shelved those pursuits for another time.
After years of being Jens Voigt, he carries with him a cerebral approach to professional cycling, in which a rider takes more than he gives and then repays the debt down the line, bottle-by-bottle and pull-by-pull.
“It should be a perfect circle. You come in the sport and the first part, you learn. You just give. You just work, work, work, work,” he said. “Then, you have the upper part of the circle, where you take more than you give, because you’re on your prime. You want to win, that means the team has to sacrifice for you. They have to ride tempo, they have to close the gaps, they have to get bottles for you. And then you perform and win.”
“And then… to close the circle, you’re back to giving more than you take. You ride tempo. You bring more bottles than people do for you. So you can pay your debt back. And in the end, it should be perfectly balanced, the taking and giving.”
It seems that way now. His role these days is one of a hardman domestique and a sort of professor of suffering.
“I’m here to teach the younger kids, to help them, to ride tempo, to get bottles,” he said. “I accepted my role. It would be bad if you fight your role, if you go, ‘hey, I’m a performer, I’m a performer,’ and you’re not. And you’re the only one who doesn’t see it. That’s bad.”
Voigt paused often Monday. He pressed his finger to his chin. He doesn’t usually say something without a second or two of thought.
“Maybe I cannot win so much myself anymore,” he said. “But I still know how it works. And that, I can pass on to the younger kids.”