Who is Jens Voigt?

Our first ‘Who is …?’ of the 2014 Tour de France needs little introduction. But it was too good an opportunity not to feature the first leader of the King of the Mountains classification, the man who made a catchphrase out of “Shut up, legs!”: 42-year-old Jens Voigt.

Jens Voigt

Jens in familiar pose – teeth gritted, giving everything (Image: RadioShack-Leopard)

The story so far

By starting yesterday’s opening stage, Voigt clocked up a record-equalling 17th appearance at the Tour de France. But a professional career that started in 1997 – the year in which Tinkoff-Saxo team boss Bjarne Riis was defending champion, Jan Ullrich won his only Tour and Trek teammate Danny van Poppel celebrated his fourth birthday – is defined by much more than that.

He’ll be best remembered as a willing attacker and a hard-working super-domestique sitting on the front of the peloton putting the hurt on 100-plus riders in his slipstream, as willing to bury himself for his teammates as he is in search of individual glory.

But he’s also been a successful racer in his own right. His palmares includes five overall victories at the Criterium International, back-to-back wins at both Bayern Rundfahrt and the Deutschland Tour, not to mention the Tour of Poland and the Tour Mediterraneen, and stage wins in many of Europe’s premier races. In total he has 29 professional victories – impressive for a man who has rarely been a featured rider.

Included among those 29 wins are one stage at the Giro and two at the Tour itself. There’s a lovely symmetry to his Tour de France career too – the only previous time he has ever led the mountains classification was in his debut appearance in 1998. So it’s only fitting that he graces the polka dots once more in his final Tour, having attacked with two others at kilometre zero and then riding away solo to claim the points that secured the jersey. Typical Jens.

One other footnote (thanks to Cillian Kelly for unearthing this little gem): not only is Voigt the oldest rider at the 2014 Tour, but he was also at the 2013, 2012 and 2011 editions, all of which he finished. Now that’s longevity for you. That’s what Jens Voigt is all about.

A man of many stories  (Image: Richard Whatley)

A man of many stories (Image: Richard Whatley)

What’s next?

Voigt’s tenure in the polka dot jersey may be short-lived. He’ll no doubt try to get into today’s breakaway, but after a big effort yesterday and with a tough parcours featuring nine climbs ahead of the peloton, he’ll be hard pressed to successfully defend it. As in 1998, the probability is he will retain the jersey for just a single day.

Beyond that, with his Trek team containing no serious GC contenders, he is likely to enjoy a large degree of freedom to pick and choose the stages on which to attack and try to go out with one final, famous victory. And you just know he’ll keep trying right to the end.

He has stated that he will retire at the end of this season. As he himself admits, “At 42 I just don’t have the punch or the sprint that I did five years ago.” Not that his retirement will be quiet – with six kids (Jens does nothing by half-measures!), how could it be? Who knows, we may one day see him put his experience to good use riding in the team car rather than ahead of it.

In recent years, riding in teams with American sponsors, he has frequently raced in either or both of the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge following the Tour. While I expect him to appear at one or both of these, I rather suspect that these will constitute more of a farewell tour than serious racing for him. I don’t think it would surprise anyone if he announced his retirement with immediate effect on the Champs-Elysees three weeks today.

Whenever Jens finally hangs up his helmet, cycling will lose one of its biggest characters and fan favourites. Not only has he always ridden with courage, flair and 100% effort, but he’s an engaging raconteur armed with many entertaining stories.

My personal favourite is one from the 2010 Tour, where he crashed heavily on the descent from the Col de Peyresourde and was forced to chase after the peloton on a junior bike. Of course, he succeeded in catching the pack. If you haven’t heard the story before, here it is straight from the horse’s mouth. (The intro is in German, but Jens tells the story in English.)

And this is an interview he gave at last year where he describes his five toughest days on the bike.

It won’t be long until we have to face up to the reality of saying farewell to Jens Voigt. He’ll be missed. Chapeau and thanks for the memories.

If you want to follow Jens Voigt more closely during this Tour, he is writing a daily blog for bicycling.com which you can access via this link.

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