Leopard Trek's Jens Voigt: "I'll burn. I'm ready to die for you on the bike."
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Friday, February 4, 2011

Leopard Trek's Jens Voigt: "I'll burn. I'm ready to die for you on the bike."

by Jered Gruber at 6:28 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
German says that calling an end to his career after leading the Schlecks to Tour glory in July would be a 'Happy Ending'

Jens Voigt needs no introduction. He's arguably the most popular bike racer on the planet, and when he speaks, it's a 100% guarantee that what he says is worth listening to. In a recent interview with Luxembourg's Tageblatt, the 39 year old German lives up to his own standards once again and delivers an interview worth reading.

There's no doubting Voigt's passion for his job. It's evident in everything he does, down to the way he walks. Last year in April, I had the chance to see Voigt in action in California, and the thing that stands out to me above all was a moment when both he and Stuart O'Grady were walking out the door to go ride bikes.

O'Grady passed by with hunched shoulders, a shuffle to his walk. Voigt came careening around the corner and did a veritable hop, skip, and a jump out the door, before heading out on his bike for five hours. At the end of the day, he returned with the same energy, the same smile, the same gait.

"I'm one of the luckiest guys in the world - I've been able to make my hobby my job. Because it's such a hard sport, it's important to be able to work in an environment that's fun. Imagine, you think: 'Hey, now I have to go back to the races, back to all those idiots.' That just doesn't work."

Voigt's energy is not just centered around his job though. It's clear that in everything he does, it's a 100% effort, including fatherhood, and there's no lack of children for the two-time Deutschland Tour winner to apply his energy to: as of January 8th and the birth of a daughter, Marie, Voigt has six children. For a rider like Voigt, or any high level professional cyclist, time away from home, a lot of it, is just a part of the job description. Voigt has managed to figure out a way to handle the time away from home and still, in his opinion, still be able to spend as much time with his children as any normal father would.

"In the off season, I was at home for almost three months. I think that at the end of the year, I spend the same amount of time with my children as would any other father who works everyday from 800 until 1600. My time is just structured differently. When I get home from a race on Sunday, then I'll either take Monday completely off or go for a really easy ride. I can take my kids to school, do some training, and then go into town with my wife, have a coffee, pick up my kids, and it's great."

A Second Family
With his family life seemingly in perfect order, the prolific winner at the old Criterium International doesn't have to worry about missing out on anything with his cycling team either. With his many years spent with the CSC/Saxo Bank outfit, he has grown close to both of the Schleck brothers.

"I was with CSC/Saxo Bank for seven years. Fränk was there a year longer than me, and I started the same year that Andy was a stagiaire. Their development has been so beautiful. At the beginning, they came to me and asked: 'Oh, how do you do this or that?' Then I'd give them tips, also stuff about life. What's important? Your attitude toward life and friendship…"

It's unsurprising that the Schlecks would find a great friend in the outgoing German. The friendship has extended far from the bike.

"Yeah, I told him how to change diapers. We go hunting together, or we sit around and play poker. Then someone brings a bottle of wine…"

When I interviewed Andy Schleck last year, he said that he could barely function following his brother, Fränk's, major crash. Bjarne Riis knew how important Voigt was to not only the Schlecks, but the whole team, so when he crashed on that infamous descent in 2009, Riis refused to give any updates on Voigt to his team as they finished up the day. It was a decision that left the elder Schleck less than pleased, and eventually, he had to ask a journalist what had happened to Voigt.

"I saw Fränk's crash, and he was there for mine. In 2009, after my crash, he was angry with Bjarne, because Bjarne did not want to tell them anything during the race about how I was doing. After the race, he had to go to anti-doping, and after that, he finally asked a journalist if I was ok. 'What do you think: that Jens Voigt would die?' He was really mad at Bjarne."

The Crash
Riis likely had good reason to hold off on informing his star riders of Voigt's condition. It was far from promising. It was certainly an unpopular decision to keep them in the dark, but it's definitely not a surprise that Riis would choose to opt for his team's anger over his team losing their grip on the stage.

There was a period when Voigt wasn't too thrilled to talk about the crash that made the world's heart stop in 2009. Understandably so. With a year and a half between him and the crash, he's more open to the topic and describes the lead up to the crash, followed by the aftermath in detail.

"We went over the mountain. We were at the front with Armstrong, Contador, and both of the Schleck, so it was about 10-12 riders. Then Bjarne spoke to me over the radio: "Don't do everything by yourself, the others can do some work too and help out." So I let myself drift back to get some water bottles, and then we were going to try to win the stage, the three of us. After that, I don't know anything else until I woke up in the ambulance. Then I thought to myself: 'How in the hell did I get here?' And then came: 'Why does everything hurt so bad?'"

Looking back, the Berlin resident says that it was his family who suffered the most in the hours following his frightening crash. Up until this point, it was never totally clear just how bad off Voigt was. In his interview with Christophe Junker, he reveals that things were touch and go for a while.

"It was, above all, hard for my family, because it took so long until they got information from me. First, I was on the ground in the road, then, at the first hospital, they said - "Nah, this is too hard for us. We're not outfitted for something like this. Then I went with the helicopter to Grenoble. They knew what to do. They called Kim Andersen every hour and told him how it was looking. At first, it was: He won't die. Then: It's serious, but he's responsive. Then: he won't be paralyzed. In the evening, at ten, I was able to call my wife and tell her: 'Hello, don't worry. I know who you are and what our children's name are. I just need a little time.'"

Of course, we know now that Voigt continued on. In the mythical version of Jens Voigt, the crash would have been nothing but a minor delay, an excuse to play video games for a few weeks, while he rested up to come back and crash any and everyone. Usually, mythical characters don't quite live up to the myth in moments like that, but there's a reason Voigt is a legend, and in his lowest moment, there was never any doubt about returning. He had to.

"No, I'm a staunch supporter of the theory: you decide your own fate. You can decide your own fate. I told myself: 'I don't want such a freaky accident to decide for me that now I'm done. I came to grips with the problem and didn't run away from it. I would have grown to be an unhappy old man [if I hadn't returned]. My wife realized the same thing as well.'

Asked whether he's ever looked at footage of his wreck, Voigt laughs off the idea, but makes it clear: he doesn't want any part of that.

"Hey, I'm old school. I don't need any psychologists or anything like that."

One More Tour?
Two big questions remain: how much longer will the rider everyone knows by his first name continue, and will he be a part of this July's Tour de France team? The two questions look like they could be intertwined.

"The Tour is no gift. In my opinion, the Schlecks, Fabian [Cancellara], and Jakob [Fuglsang] are definites, no matter what happens. I will try to get on the team. To do that, you also have to tell yourself: I'll burn, I'm ready to die for you on the bike. This give and take is expected though. They've helped me out a lot as well, for example, they helped me win the Deutschland Tour. It's give and take."

At this point in his career, Voigt looks to be more on the giving end than the taking one, but that doesn't seem to bother him one bit. Thankfully, for cycling fans everywhere, Voigt lived up to his own iconic standards and continued on after his horrific crash in the 2009 Tour. His new team looks to be in the driver's seat headed to July. A victory with the Schlecks in Paris at the end of July might just be the final success that Voigt needs before he's able to call it a career.

"In 2008, we won the Tour with Carlos Sastre and both Schlecks in the team. I was 36 then, and I thought to myself: 'It can't get better than this.' We won stages, the team classification, the general classification, and we all stood there at the top together. All nine. One doesn't get to experience that very often...In Paris, a beautiful chapter in cycling could end for me there. That would be a Happy Ending."



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