Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) is among the most popular riders in the peloton and after 14 years as a professional road racer, the German hardman is looking forward to another year – and looking back at a long, successful 2010.
While Voigt declined to confirm his employer for 2011 – he has been linked to the new Luxembourg-based team headed by Saxo defector Kim Anderson and the Schleck brothers – the 39-year-old did say that he would be back for another season.
Voigt started his 2010 campaign at the Tour Down Under in January and carried through the spring with a stage win at the Volta Catalunya, sixth overall at Paris-Nice and the Amgen Tour of California and a spot on the Tour de France team of second overall Andy Schleck.
Abandon or ride a kids’ bike?
“I’m happy that I overcame my crash (in stage 16) when I had the funny episode on the yellow, little kids’ bike and still made it to Paris bruised up everywhere with two broken ribs,” said Voigt. “I had a lot of ups and downs, but it definitely was a nice year. There were more positives during my year that negatives.”
That episode saw Voigt, his support cars up the road and no one but a lonely broom wagon driver and a race doctor there, pull himself off the tarmac after a hard crash 10km into the stage and mount a children’s bike for a 20km chase.
“I saw all these riders coming past and the very last rider, Robbie McEwen, and I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to be all alone. He’s the last one,’” said Voigt. “I looked at the broom wagon and he looked at me like a little vulture, like, ‘Hey, you want to come in? You want to come in?’”
To load into the wagon would have meant two consecutive abandonments at the Tour after Voigt broke multiple facial bones in a 2009 crash. He was not willing to go through that experience again.
“I don’t think I doubted or hesitated a second,” he said. “I laid there for a second on the ground and said, ‘Fuck that hurts,’ and then, ‘Fuck, I’m going to get up, I’m going to get up, I’m not going to let this happen because to abandon the Tour for me leaves a bad taste, like I’m a failure. You’re not there for your teammates, you’re one working piece left for the boys.”
Voigt looked like he was in a scene from a B-movie as he stood by the roadside waiting for the doctor.
“I was bleeding everywhere. Blood was running down my arms through my gloves and off my fingertips, like a bad horror movie,” said Voigt. “As I was walking across the road where I crashed on the left side, I could see the blood dripping down and leaving a trace of blood stains behind me.”
The damage to his race machine included a broken wheel, frame and rear derailleur. After a series of phone calls, race organizers found a follow car that was on the road to support a junior ride along the race route.
“They gave me this little bike with toe straps and limited junior gears,” he said. “There was no quick release so I couldn’t change the seat height, nothing. You just jump on it, get the toe straps on and pray and hope for the best.”
Up the road, Bjarne Riis made arrangements with a local police officer for a bike handoff with Voigt. “Bjarne said, ‘You’re a policeman, we trust you. Eventually, there will be one of my riders coming. It could be five minutes or thirty minutes, but he will come. His name is Jens Voigt and he will ask for this bike,’” Voigt said.
Voigt, who grew up in the East German state athletics program before the Berlin Wall fell, took his spare bike from the officer and chased onto the race, eventually reaching and 80-man groupetto midway through the stage.
“I was back on and after five minutes, I tried to catch McEwen first, then Cavendish and another groupetto,” he said. “I was never ever so happy to be in the last group. I was like, ‘I love you all boys.’ It was such a relief to finally see team cars and other jerseys in front of me.”
Attacking the Tour for the last time
The 2010 may have been Voigt’s last. He acknowledged that fact at the time and gave his all to avoid trading his hard-nosed, attack-at-all-costs image for that of a crasher.
“Not everybody knows that I won Tour of Bayern three times, people know me from the Tour,” he said. “Sometimes attacking senseless, getting caught, exploding, that’s a big part of my image, so I have to say merci to the Tour and I didn’t want to close that chapter of my life with a stupid crash.”
Voigt is 39 and a father of five (soon six) children. While the pro peloton has seen a late 30’s renaissance in the last few years with riders like Chris Horner scoring big wins, Voigt knows that he can’t go on forever.
“It’s not getting easier with the age,” he said. “But let me put it this way: I’m going to be the last person to give it up for free. They’ve got to ride faster than me. It’s not a question of age, it’s a question of quality.”
The German joked that he had “quite successfully stopped the aging process. Anytime the age creeps up on me and hits me on the ass, I turn around and kick it back for another year.”
That said, he did recognize that he would have to face his aging legs and a looming retirement at some point.
As for his exploits on the front of long, hard days at the Tour and other top-level events, Riis only asked him to make the breakaway once in France this year, on the Col de Madeleine. “I was able to prove that I deserved to be there, that I was there when they needed me,” he said proudly. “That was an enormously satisfying thing. It’s as good as winning yourself when your team leader, your friend Andy says, ‘Hey Jens, that was great. We needed you, you were there.’ That makes your day, so hopefully I’m going to be there one more year.”