Jens Voigt: An overall favorite for California?
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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jens Voigt: An overall favorite for California?

by Jered Gruber at 2:21 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Tour of California
"I would probably rather dying than giving up"

Jens VoigtJens Voigt isn't the first name that comes to mind as a big favorite for overall victory at this week's Tour of California, but from speaking recently with one of the sport's most popular, tough bike racers, it's apparent that he's not coming to California for fun in the sun.
Over the course of two different interviews, Voigt gives a very good idea of the possibilities and hopes he has put on the Tour of California, and his expectations are not low. Almost by default, California will be an important race for Voigt in 2010. Voigt speaks candidly about finding room for his own personal goals while racing in a powerhouse team like Saxo Bank. He loves it, but admits that it doesn't leave him very many opportunities to pursue his own goals - not a fact that he bemoans or laments, but a simple fact.
"You have to see that you fit your goals into those of the team, you know? We had the Schleck Brothers calling for Liege, so it was not really for me to pick that one. I'll probably work in the Tour de Suisse for Fabian. I worked in Paris-Nice for the Schleck Brothers, and in the Tour de France as well for the Schleck Brothers or Fabian, so I just have to look for my chances in between those of the team's big hitters. I don't know, California looks pretty interesting to me. I actually think California sounds really good to me. I mean, that's a big race, we're going to send a really good team over there. It's about the only thing left for me!"
Not only does California sound good to Jens, it's a very real possibility and a race that fits perfectly into his skill set. His two Deutschland Tour victories in 2006 and 2007 speak volumes for his pedigree in the week-long events, not to mention the myriad of other success he has enjoyed in races like this week's Tour of California. Voigt felt very confident speaking about the race back in February when I mentioned his Deutschland Tour wins.
"Exactly! California is not too long, it doesn't have any killer climbing, well, it has some hard climbs, but not three days in a row of killer climbing, and it has a time trial. It's a good mix, it's something that fits my abilities. I'm not naturally the best climber, and I'm not a time trial specialist like Fabian Cancellara. California is a little bit like the Deutschland Tour, a race that I've won before. It's a good mix. It plays in my favor."
Fast forward to Thursday and Voigt was a little more modest in his hopes for this week: "The whole team is a little bit of an unknown right now so to speak. We all just finished a hard Spring Campaign. I started racing at the Tour Down Under and raced full on through to Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Andy was pretty much in the same boat, and then there are guys like Fabian and Stuey who raced all the cobbled classics. I took a week off after Liege, then started back up. I don't know if I'm back to speed completely just yet. We will just have to see how the first stage goes and see how quickly we can get back into a rhythm.
Voigt's words belie his actions though - as the rest of the team enjoyed a mellow 1.5 hour ride with the employees of Specialized in Morgan Hill on Thursday, Voigt was out for a four hour ride getting some hard work in.
Voigt admits that the traveling and the breaks could put the team a little behind: "It could be really good, or we could be missing that last five percent. For sure, Levi is going to be so motivated. He's going to be flying, no question. The jet lag has been a little bit hard, you know, they usually say one day per hour, so that would be nine days - we'll have a little bit less than that, but it will be ok."
Throughout the various press conferences over the last few days, the team in general has been quick to pass the baton to someone else when asked about overall possibilities. In fact, it has been almost comical - the question is posed, the rider who has been asked (often Andy Schleck or Fabian Cancellara), smiles, and passes it to someone else, but it always seemed like the mic was passed in the direction of Jens.
Taking on a rider like Levi Leipheimer will be a formidable task, but it's one that Voigt has managed to pull off in years past. He took a number of impressive scalps en route to his duel Deutschland Tour victories. A closer look at his success there could give us a better idea of what we might see here in California. Both years, the Rettenbachferner, a gargantuan climb of 12 km at an 11% average, was the decisive mountaintop finish. The Rettenbachferner is the type of climb reserved for the great climbers, and a climb, under normal circumstances, where a rider like Voigt should struggle. For both years though, Voigt was more than up to the task.
"I was just so determined. I would probably rather dying than giving up. There was just that one climb, just that one finish climb, and I can make that. You go to this climb and you tell yourself, 'Ok, listen, they're only humans, they're only humans. They cannot be better than you. Ok, if it's hurting me, imagine how much it must be hurting them.' You know? So you talk yourself into it: 'One more switchback, I can hang on, and then they slow down. One more switchback, and then they slow down.' Very often it works, but sometimes you totally blow up because you think, 'Ok, now, I just go in the red and bluff, and I just pray that they stop attacking at the next switchback and go slower,' and of course, sometimes they don't, and you explode completely into a million pieces, but often it works! Every now and then, I can dig really deep to overcome an obstacle, which should be out of my reach, but just by willpower, you know? I can make it happen for one day, not two or three days in a row, but one day, for sure. After going so deep on that one day, you have to pay the price the next day. "
Much has been said about the stage to Big Bear, which by most accounts should play a huge role in deciding the general classification, but it's in no way comparable to a climb like the Rettenbachferner. There will be almost innumerable climbs en route to the Tour of California's first ever mountaintop finish, but one has to think that Voigt could well be digging deep for another heroic effort and another almost improbable result.
"I love California. I always like to race here. I still feel like a 16-year-old before my first race. I'm 38, but I still want to perform, I want to achieve, it's easy to get excited, easy to be motivated. We'll see what happens this week!"


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