The affable uber-domestique, Jens Voigt, who suffered nobly in the service of so many team leaders, is coming to centre stage in Australia. Ahead of the upcoming The Tour on Stage, he told Ride On of the highlights and insights of his long career.
RO: Do you still ride for fun?
Voigt: It’s coming back but I did so many years of it that I really needed a break. When I looked at my bike all the words I could see connected to it were bad words like ‘pain’, ‘work’, ‘suffering’, ‘crash’, ‘risk’, ‘sacrifice’. Only lately I can look at the bike and think, “That looks like fun.” I need to get back into it because it’s just simply not healthy. I’m slowly coming back into a routine of going running or riding or some sort of regular exercise.
RO: Do you miss racing?
Voigt: There were so many years when I loved it like anything but in the end it also became my job. I did cycling for 33 years, 18 of them as a professional. The distance I covered on my bike in training and racing since the start of my career equals the distance from earth to the moon and back and halfway back up to the moon again. I think it’s something like 17 times around the equator.
I speak to other cyclists, athletes and people who had a good career and could stop on their own terms, like me, and they say, “I left it all out there.” At the moment, I do not have one competitive cell left in my body. The other day I was riding with the kids to school and I was almost about to call out, “Hey kids, go slower—it’s too fast for daddy!”
Have self-belief beyond reason … Don’t let anybody spoil your dream. Believe in yourself if you want to make it happen.
RO: What highlights stand out?
Voigt: The moment that’s the best day on the bike would be when I helped Bobby Julich to win in Nice in 2005. Bobby is a friend of mine and he helped me many times. I knew Bobby’s wife and daughter would be there at the finish line. I chased everybody down and made sure Bobby had enough water bottles and food. As we ended up on the podium together I could see Olivia his daughter and Angela his wife almost in tears because their husband and father performed so well. That was a good day.
The other is the 2008 Tour de France we won with Carlos Sastre and we won the team competition. So we were all together on the podium in Paris on a rare occasion when we brought all nine riders to Paris—normally you lose somebody to sickness or crash or a time card. I said to the boys, “We should just all retire—it will never get better than this moment.”
RO: How is it for women racers?
Voigt: The progress is too slow. There’s no reason in this modern day and age for the gap between women’s cycling and men’s. ORICA GreenEDGE are doing a good job there. They have a development team, they have the men’s professional team and they have a women’s team. That’s the way it should be. The UCI should simply say, “From 2017 on, whoever wants to have a World Tour licence must have a junior team and must have a women’s team.”
Or for race organisers, such as the Tour de France: you have 21 stages of men’s racing, you must have seven days of women’s racing. Tour Down Under is doing a good job already—they’ve started to give more days to the women’s racing. California is starting to do it. We have to force the system a little bit to get the process ignited. Once the women’s cycling is strong enough to survive on its own, then the ladies can do whatever and however they want to do it. But for now they need a bit of support.
RO: What advice do you have for young cyclists?
Voigt: I have three pieces of advice. First, have self-belief beyond reason. Don’t let anyone talk you down. Don’t let anybody spoil your dream. Believe in yourself if you want to make it happen. Second, there are no shortcuts, this is a sport where you have to work. Talent only gets you so far. If you stop pedalling you’re dropped. Third, never forget where you came from, who helped you to get there and what brought you there.
If you follow these rules you’re pretty much walking on a straight line in life as well.
RO: What are you looking forward to with The Tour on Stage?
Voigt: I’m a social person—I like to talk and interact with people. I think the fans are a crucial part of our sport. The fans make our sport great. The fans give us the energy to perform and to suffer and to entertain them.
I want to tell the people one more time how much I loved their support and how much their support helped me to carry on after crashes or after a disastrous race. Any thought of giving up was blown away by the fans supporting you and believing in you.
The Tour on Stage
Phil Liggett and Jens Voigt in conversation with special guests
Wednesday 18 November, Sydney
Saturday 21 November, Melbourne
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