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By Sebastian Moll, Special to VeloNews
One reason why Bjarne Riis is so fond of Jens Voigt, is that the man from East Germany is very clear in his analysis and very firm in his decisions.
Voigt possesses what one would call leadership qualities, the sort that only few people in cycling have. It’s a characteristic that Riis had in his day and Lance Armstrong shows so well today. Just as Riis and Armstrong made the assessment one day that they can win the Tour and did everything necessary to accomplish this goal, Jens Voigt has made a clear decision about his career.
“I am a mediocre sprinter, a bad climber and an okay time trailer. But really, I am not very good at anything,” Voigt says of his talents, leaving out the one thing he does better than almost anyone: attacking.
Voigt has made a career out of attacking, having become the most notorious and most successful barodeur after Jacky Durand quit racing last year. Voigt has taken attacking to another level. For one thing, it has put the yellow jersey on his shoulders twice: once in 2001 after a long attack with Laurent Jalabert and again this Sunday His aggressive style have made the German, who raced many years for the Toulouse based Crédit Agricole team, one of the most popular riders in France. The root of his popularity, many say, is that he personifies passionate,/I> cycling, a stark contrast to the cold calculating style of Lance Armstrong or Miguel Indurain before him. No matter that marketing himself as the Coeur de Lion for Voigt is in itself a very calculated decision. Ever since Voigt has joined Bjarne Riis’s team – his attacks have become even more calculated than before. Riis hired Voigt specifically for attacks. Riis makes use of the temperament and the skill of the man from the East German Mecklenburg region in strategic ways. It has served him very well in the past years, keeping CSC present in the media throughout the Tour – last year, Voigt was in escape groups for over 1000 miles, he rode more than half of the Tour outside of the peloton, keeping the CSC jersey in view of the cameras for three weeks. This year, however, things are more complicated. CSC has a clear overall leader in Ivan Basso and no team can afford to waste its energies, even for TV time. Hence Riis had to re-calibrate his attacking machine.
“I talked to Jens many times,” Riis said. “He always wants to be in front, always wants to be the best. I tried to make it clear to him that riding like that costs him too much energy.” Voigt seems to have understood. Sort of.
“Bjarne showed me that one decisive attack can do a lot more for me than ten failed attempts,” Voigt noted.
Like the attack on Sunday – the one that brought Voigt the yellow jersey. It was Voigt’s first of the week, but it was still hard work for Riis to contain the hyper active German.
“I asked Bjarne every day”, Voigt said, “if I could attack. Finally on Sunday, minutes before the start he said, I could go. He said everyone should stay with Basso except for me. I was free to go ahead and do what I like.” The lesson of just how far one well-calculated effort can take him sent mixed messages to Voigt. On one hand, it educated him about the virtues of restraint. On the other, it affirmed his popularity among the French and among his colleagues.
The French daily Le Figaro called him the “hero of the Vosges.” Jan Ullrich expressed what many other riders think: “He is one of the most likeable characters in the peloton. He really deserves the jersey.”
Just how popular Voigt is, is demonstrated not only by the fact that the riders elected him as their representative in the Pro Tour council. It became equally evident when Christophe Moreau waited for his fellow escapee when Voigt punctured on Sunday.
“I don’t know where I would otherwise have ended up,” Voigt said afterwards – most likely, it would not have been in the yellow jersey. Because it has given him so much and continues to, Voigt will continue to love riding on the attack. In theory Voigt has come to appreciate the merits of a well-planned attack as opposed to “beating his luck until it gives in,” which is how he described himself in 2001. Nonetheless, he will probably continue to pester Riis on most days, to let him play his favorite game.
Before the Tour, Voigt had said, that his hunger had been satisfied after a successful spring and that he was ready to subject his ambitions entirely to Basso’s campaign for the overall lead. But once the Tour had started, Voigt’s restraint was blown away. As he says, there is only one thing that he is really good at.
And he really, really loves doing it.