Ahead of his appearance in the Amgen Tour of California from May 12th to 19th, Sheree recently interviewed one of the professional peloton’s most popular riders – the legend that is Jens Voigt. The German veteran has endeared himself to cycling fans the world over with his ‘who dares wins’ attitude, witty one-liners and engaging insights into life in the Voigt household via social media.
Sheree: Is being away from home and missing out on family life one of the harder aspects of being a professional athlete?
Jens: Crashing and suffering is also pretty hard! Yes, missing out on time with the family is one of the main sacrifices but I try to do as much as possible. I attend parent/teacher meetings, first day at school and try to spend time doing things with them in the school holidays but it’s not always possible. For my six kids, I managed to attend five of the births. I missed one when I was at the Tour de France. If it had been a smaller race, I might have stopped and gone home. But it was the Tour de France, so I missed one.
At this point Jens catches sight of my long list of questions and asks me if I’ve bought my cheque book as he charges by the second! I promise to be quick. I’m lying.
Sheree: I see you as the elder statesman of the peloton, passing on words of wisdom to riders young enough to be your sons. How do you feel about that?
Jens: (looks reflective) I see myself as a fit and strong performer but I know I am drifting towards the role of being, as you say, an elder statesman. Not long ago, at the Criterium International, I was rooming with Bob Jungels who’s the youngest member of our team – he’s 21 and I’m 41 – so I’m easily old enough to be his father. It’s funny! But, vice versa, being with the young fellows also helps me to stay young. I have paid for my experience in blood, sweat and tears. In some situations I’ll say “Don’t panic, do this or do it like that …” I don’t want to come across as a boring old man. But I’ve paid a big price for some of these experiences. Sometimes I’ll say “Calm down” or “You need to kick yourself in the butt, get off your behind and move”. I do try to help and give them some tips.
Sheree: Of course, you gladden the hearts of middle-aged men in lycra everywhere when you launch one of your trademark attacks as you did on yesterday’s stage [in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco]. What prompted the move?
Jens: I could just see it was a good moment. We were about 25 or 29 kilometres from the finish, the guy out front had been there all day on his own and he would be tired, none of the teams up front were working, the road was narrow and I could see that it was possible to bridge across. I asked the team car and they said if I felt good I should go. So I went together with [Adriano] Malori (Lampre-Merida) and we quickly built a lead of a minute. You never know how it will go. They may not get organised, they might hesitate a bit longer, then you have a minute and a half or more and it’s all over. I knew I had a small chance to win, but a zero chance if I waited.
Sheree: I agree and, of course, fans like aggressive, attacking riding. There’s nothing worse than negative tactics where riders won’t make an effort because they don’t want to tow someone to the line who might or might not beat them.
Jens: If there’s something left in me, it’s better to go down fighting. You’ve got to have a bit of self-belief and confidence in yourself. I might know that I have only a little chance but I’m a good rider and I try to make it happen. You have to give luck a swift kick in the behind so it falls on your side. You have to make your own luck.
Sheree: When we met earlier in the year at the Tour du Haut Var, you said your favourite race was the one you’d just finished. I rather gained the impression that you take just one day at a time?
Jens: I do. I’m still in one piece. I’m perhaps untypical for a bike rider. If my life depended on it I couldn’t name any of the finish towns in any of the races this year, well, except perhaps Nice in Paris-Nice. I finish the race, climb off my bike, get into the coach, shower, change, eat and then unwind with a book or fishing magazine.
Jens: It’s good for decompressing. Sometimes I go with no real intention of catching anything. I just like watching the sun reflecting on the water and having a peaceful mind. Of course, if I take the kids with me, they need more action. We have to catch something otherwise they find it boring. Fishing’s good, I like it.
Sheree: You’ve had a long and successful career. You told me you were most proud of your first Tour de France win (2001 stage six into Serran) but do you have any unfulfilled objectives?
Jens: Well, for sure, there are many nice races and wins that it would be nice to do and some other objectives and dreams I’d like to achieve but, independently of my capacity [as a rider] and reality, I would like to win solo atop Alpe d’Huez. It would be so cool to solo across the line with enough time to straighten your jersey.
Sheree: Not forgetting having a corner named after you?
Jens: Even my son, if he would one day race up there, would say “Look, there’s the corner of my Dad!” Just dreaming …
Sheree: Which of your children ride?
Jens: Just the second eldest, the 13-year-old. He’d only been riding for a couple of months when he entered and won his first race, a cyclo-cross one on his mountain bike. It was just the two of us there. It was pretty cool, a pretty special moment.
Sheree: So, is it possible that the peloton will soon have another Voigt in its midst?
Jens: Who knows? It’s possible. At the moment it’s just fun riding together but there will come a point when he’ll be on a level with me and then he’ll pass me by. Which will happen, it’s just the way nature goes.
You can read part two of our interview with Jens Voigt here.