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By Sebastian Moll and Alexander Heflik, Special to VeloNews
A few hours before the Tour de France peloton left Briançon on Thursday, one man, who had just days earlier been leading the race, grabbed a ride to the airport.
CSC’s Jens Voigt had little choice but to fly home to Berlin after missing the time cut by a mere 41 seconds on Wednesday’s stage, one that featured the feared Col du Galibier. Before his flight, Voigt took time to speak with a small group of German reporters about the events leading up to his unfortunate exit from the Tour. Voigt said his performance on Wednesday had been hampered by illness, something he’d felt come on in Grenoble during Monday’s rest day. But holding the yellow jersey and “still full of adrenalin,” Voigt said he ignored the symptoms of what turned out to be a respiratory infection. In the night after Tuesday’s stage to Courchevel, Voigt developed a fever and his team doctors discouraged him from even starting on the following day. It was advice he opted to ignore and did what he could to hold on even to the grupetto in what was the Tour’s most difficult stage to date.
Coming over the Galibier with a deficit of 45 minutes and riding on his own in the rain< Voigt now had to contend with swarms of fans spilling onto the road, team director Kim Andersen told him that it would be really close for him to make the cut. Voigt, he calculated, would have had to ride at 60 kilometers an hour or quicker for the next 40 kilometers. After missing that goal by a tiny margin, Voigt said he did not feel defeated by the Galibier.
“I believe that I vindicated myself,” he said. “It was my sickness and the emptiness in my body.” For a few moments on the climb, Voigt had considered abandoning, but because there were camera motorcycles “hovering around me like vultures,” he said he decided to go on out of stubbornness and a refusal to “do them the favor” of climbing off of his bike.
“As a racer you don’t want to be dropped, you have a certain pride and if it happens anyway you don’t want that to be documented in public,” he said. Even a day after the stage, Voigt said, having worn the yellow jersey doesn’t make up for the disappointment of abandoning the Tour, noting that he would gladly return it, if it could put him back in the race. Voigt said he would have loved to help Ivan Basso in the coming stages and had also had plans for trying to win a stage in the Massif Central. The fact that the course was no longer properly closed when Voigt came through, might have given Voigt the possibility to protest his exclusion. However that was not an option he wanted to consider.
“To stay in the race because of a protest and then try to win a stage – no, that is just not a thing you do,” Voigt said. “I just have to accept this.”