Friday Feature: Jens Voigt interview (part 2)

In part one of Sheree’s interview with Jens Voigt, he talked about how he balances racing with the demands of a large family, and shared his thoughts on becoming one of the peloton’s elder statesmen. Here he reflects back on his career and discusses his plans for a future post-racing.

Sheree: You’ve had a long career, longer than many. What’s changed the most in that time?

Jens: No kidding, there’s been lots of changes. I could talk for an hour about that. [Our budget won’t run to that! – Ed.] It’s mostly better equipment and support. The teams and the sport have become more professional. When I started back in 1998, there were 18 riders and the whole team amounted to about 35. Nowadays at the Tour de France we have nine riders but we ask for 34-35 beds as we travel with a PR guy, an osteopath, the team doctor … Teams now number 60-65 employees – they’ve doubled in size.

The most remarkable change has been the general fitness of all the riders. They’re so much fitter, they finish much closer together. In 1998 on a summit finish like today, the peloton would be really spread out and finish in ones and twos over a long period. Now you come to the last climbs with 50 or so riders. It’s much harder and more stressful with such a compact group. Before, one hard acceleration and 60-80% of the bunch would be gone. Nowadays riders are still chatting and laughing in the bunch and we’re lucky if we’ve shed a couple of sprinters.

There’s more money and it’s a better environment. There’s more PR exposure and more fame but that comes with more stress and pressure. It’s not necessarily negative, it’s just the way it is and we have to learn to live with it. There are about 1,200-1,300 registered professionals and around 550 slots on WorldTour teams, so it’s stiff competition to get contracts. There’s more pressure on riders for results, points and to find their niche in the market.

Sheree: I read on your blog for Bicycling magazine that your objectives for 2013 were no serious injuries …

Jens: Check!

Sheree: … ride the Tour de France and to be seen as a good teammate. Is that it?

Jens: Yes, then you try to have a win for yourself. I have at least one win every year. I’ve been pretty consistent and, of course, there have been good years where I’ve won ten or more. (2005: 11 wins, 2006: 16 wins, 2007 : 10 wins.)

Sheree: You also have some favourite races such as the Criterium International (winner: 1999, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009), or should I call it the Jens Voigt Invitational?

Jens: (laughs) For a while it looked like that but I won the race in my first year at CSC, then my teammates won it the next two years which was okay as the win stayed in the team. I really like that race because it’s short, vicious and stressful just like at home. You need to go full-gas and be fully concentrated and the weather’s often bad which is to my advantage. Of course, it’s now in the sunny south but the weather can still be bad.

Sheree: You seem to relish the tougher races?

Jens: My only talent is that I have a so-called big engine. I can attack on successive days – well maybe now not so often – or ride tempo at the front of the peloton for a week. I’m not a climber or a sprinter. Whatever makes the race sticky, fast and difficult is good for me. I’m just a big motor – I think I’m allowed to say that – and a fighter. I’ll do whatever it takes to make the race. Of course, (laughs) I would like to have been a sprinter, sitting comfortably in the peloton until I’m launched across the finish line.

Sheree: Do you think your attitude was forged by your early training in the former East Germany?

Jens: Jonathan Vaughters, my team-mate at Credit Agricole, always used to laugh and say that Jens was raised in cage 17 and had to pedal on his home trainer for food, water and electricity …

A fresh-faced Jens Voigt in 1999 (image: Cycling archives)

A fresh-faced Jens Voigt in 1999 (Image: Cycling Archives)

I went 300km from home to the sports school in East Berlin when I was 13-14 years old, living in a single-sex dormitory and it was tough. There were fights to establish the pecking order. It was easier for the boys from Berlin who could go home in the evening. A lot of the boys dropped out through homesickness. So, yes it was tough and back there did help forge my character.

Sheree: You stayed in Berlin – you didn’t opt for the more tax-friendly environment of, say, Switzerland?

Jens: Sometimes in a kidding way, I like to think of us a typical German poster card family raising our six children to become potential German taxpayers. Sometimes it hurts, but when I see the new facilities or repairs in the schools I like to think that’s perhaps where my money’s gone, not some set of traffic lights in the middle of nowhere. I understand the necessity, someone has to pay for the police, healthcare … I have profited from an education paid for by my country. It’s only correct and fair to pay something back but not 80% like in France.

My wife comes from West Germany and I come from East Germany, so we’re a mixed couple. And since the wall came down it’s a great city to live in even though it doesn’t have the Pyrenees for training. My wife has made it pretty clear that she’d only swap Berlin for New York or London, anything else would be a step down. It’s a pretty special city and the kids have all their friends there.

Sheree: What would you like to do when you finally retire?

Jens: I’ve told my wife she’s had it easy for the past 16 years – it’s her turn to look after me now. She gave me a dig in the ribs when I told her that. The first year’s going to be a mix of different jobs as I need to find out what I’m good at, what I like and what I’m qualified to do. I recently tried public speaking for the first time. I might work with some of the sponsors, work part-time as a directeur sportif, write more articles as a freelance journalist, become a partner in a friend’s business. So I think I’m going to have a trial period.

Jens: I’m writing another book and this time it’ll be in English.

Sheree: (brandishing a copy of Jens’ first book ‘Man muss kampfen’) I’m pleased to hear it as this one didn’t do you justice – your personality didn’t shine through.

jensbook

Jens: The book will be in English and German and I’m doing it with Rodale Publishing who own Bicycling magazine where I write my blog, and there’ll be more personality.

Sheree: Good to hear and I’ll look forward to reading it. Thank you for your time, it’s much appreciated, and good luck on tomorrow’s stage.

Jens: We’re out of GC now so we can just go out and show the jersey. I generally do well on Thursday or Friday’s stage – I’ve won four times in the past (1998, 2004, 2005, 2007) and finished second (2006).

Everyone happy to be sheltering on the Voigt train (image: Richard Whatley)

Everyone happy to be sheltering on the Voigt train (Image: Richard Whatley)

Sheree: So will you be telling the legs to “shut up”?

Jens: I’ll try but it seems to work less. They keep telling me that after five long years they’re not falling for that trick any more! But I’ll be wearing my bracelet from my Australian friend and maybe that’ll do the trick.

Thanks to RadioShack-Leopard’s PR supremo Philippe Maertens for arranging the interview.

One thought on “Friday Feature: Jens Voigt interview (part 2)

  1. Pingback: Friday Feature: Jens Voigt interview (part 1) | VeloVoices

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