S VOIGT – HARD WORKER & STRIKER
Hard worker and striker. A good team member, excellent man and an uncompromising fighter against doping. German rider Jens Voigt belongs to the most popular people in the peloton. However, he nearly left it for good this year. Fortunately, he decided that in spite of a crash at the Tour de France he will race in future.
For six weeks he was not allowed to ride his bicycle. But after 48 days his crash he participated as a member of Team Saxo Bank in Tour of Missouri. Jens Voigt was back! Was it a miracle?
German media wrote of “The Comeback of the Year. Did you have similar feelings?
Well, the fall at the Tour looked very badly. It was harsh and dangerous. But luckily I did not hurt myself too much. For six weeks I was not allowed to do anything. The doctor told me: “It was a serious fall on your head, you were unconscious, therefore no sport, no cycling, no spinning, nothing”. After those six weeks I slowly started to train again. Firstly, at the hospital where the doctor monitored whether something was wrong. Then at home and finally I returned to the road.
In the past you used to say: I always try to keep a positive mind. Did that help you in your rehabilitation?
Certainly. I never doubted, even for a second, that I would return. I am 38 years old and somebody perhaps thought that it was the end of my career. But, I did not want the fall to be the last of my career.
I heard that you wanted to end your career after the 2009 season. Is that true?
No, no, that was wrong information. I did not want to stop. I am feeling quite well and I am happy on my bike. I love this sport, and I want to have some more experiences with it.
Perhaps to celebrate the triumph of Andy Schleck at the Tour? Would it be an ideal scenario for the ending of your career?
Perfect! And I also want to experience one more Tour, where I finish in Paris instead of lying in a hospital in central France. Andy is an excellent leader, able to win the Tour, even though I realize that it is very difficult to beat Contador. Contador is a complete rider, who is very strong in the mountains and time trials. With him in the peloton it will be difficult for us.
Is Andy Schleck the strongest team member who you experienced in your career?
I have been in this business for a lot of years. When I began my career I had Chris, an excellent rider for time trials, at my side. Or Frederika Moncassina, an excellent sprinter. And a lot of other riders. Now, we have Andy, Frank and Cancellara, a new generation – other types of riders. It is difficult to compare different generations.
Let us return to your dramatic fall at the Tour. I have read that afterwards you did not recognize your family.
No, it is not true. The fall occurred at about four o’clock in the afternoon. And already at ten o’clock in the evening after the first operation I could call my family. But it’s a fact, that just after the crash we did not know how serious my injuries would be. We only knew that I would survive. And hopefully I would not end up in a wheelchair. But nobody was able to say whether I would be able to write my name again, to walk, or to do any sport. Nobody could tell me that I would be 100% ok. It was not an easy situation. I was not able to control it. I had to think positively and direct all my energy to my healing, but nothing was guaranteed to me.
What do you remember anything from the crash today?
Nothing. I do not know how the fall happened. In my memory 30 minutes of my life is missing.
Have you seen your fall on the video?
Many times. Everybody asks about it at the start of each interview …
Daily Peloton wrote: It was a type of a fall that finished a career of many cyclists. Do you agree?
Certainly. It could have been my final crash – and I could lost my life in it (he sighs). I was going more than 80 km per hour. I could even dropped off the road, a motorcycle could have run over me. I could have broken more bones, my legs, arms… But as I say: I was very lucky.
Was it strange for you to just sit or lie at home while you were healing?
It happened in the middle of the summer so I could some activities with my children. Firstly, after my return from the hospital I was very tired after my head injury. The injury took so much energy. I was just glad that I could sit up. But after two or three hours my body told me: I want to sleep again. I had no energy. After a while I was healing well, my energy was starting to come back. Then I told myself: O.K., I can return to my bike – but it was not allowed to me by my doctors. I had to sit at home, which was really very boring. I already had my energy, but I could not use it.
Did you watch the Tour at least on TV?
Has the crash changed you? Are you more careful descending?
I have always been careful decending, I was not crazy.
No Samuel Sánchez…
Not at all. I cannot compare with his crazy descending skills, I am far from it. In our team we have some riders with good decending skills like O´ Grady or Cancellara, but I have never been such a type. Nevertheless, in a race, it is not often your choice. You are in a group, to stay in it, and therefore you go race with the others, you try to increase your speed. I can’t think about the risks in the race. And definitely not on the consequences of my crash at the Tour where I could have died. You need to stay with the riders ahead of you and keep up with them.
Hermann Maier used to say: You need to have respect for a race, but you can never fear it. Is it similar in cycling?
A bit, yes. We are not down-hill skiers, who only focus on speed, speed and speed. Our races are much linger, profiles more varied. But if panic seizes you going down a mountain then you lose. It is the same for us and them.
Approximately how many crashes a year do you experience?
On average two or three. There are seasons when I avoid them completely, but sometimes I experience as many as seven of them.
In your opinion which crashes are more dangerous: descending or sprinting?
Crashing when going down a mountain can cause much harm if you go very fast. But crashes before the finish where everybody is looking for the best position are much more treacherous. Sprinters are trying to win the stage and the riders from the top of classification are also there so they don’t lose time. There are many people there at speeds of around 60 km/h. Therefore a lot of bad crashes occur in the sprint.
With the Saxo Bank team the traditional “survival camp” awaits you. Is this a good experience for you?
Sure. I like it. The survival camps are tough. You are out at night in the woods in a complete darkness; often you’re hungry, cold, tired and have not a slightest idea of where you are. When you overcome everything, you are happy that you have “survived”. And at the same time you learn to work as a team. The survival camp gives us strength every year.
You also learn how to get rid of your fear there, don’t you?
Sure. You learn to control your fear and overcome it.
If everything goes according to plan, you will participate in your 13th Tour de France next year. Is thirteen your lucky number?
Well, I have to be firstly nominated into the team… And concerning that thirteen, it has no special meaning for me.
Let us stay at the numbers. You have won Critérium International five times, which means that you beat legendary Anquetil by one triumph. What is it like?
I only beat him in this small race. Otherwise I do not dare to compare with him. Five victories in the Critérium International as I did was only reached by Raymond Poulidor, therefore now I am thinking about the sixth one (laughing )
At the Tour you have had the yellow jersey twice, but due to the mountains the overall victory has never been your goal. Is it an unfulfilled goal of your career: to win a one of the Grand Tours?
Once it was… Now I know that I am too old for it. I dreamt of such triumph, when I was 28 or 29. But I know what I can and cannot do.
Do you think of the mountains?
Yes- and length of the race. Three weeks are too long for me. I am able to go well in the mountains one day, but that is my limit. But the next day I have spasms and am tired. I lose a lot of time. At the Tour you go up to the mountains again and again, which is bad for me. I am a one day racer when it comes to the mountains, I don’t do too well in the longer stage races with a lot of mountains.
The beginning of your professional career you spent in the Czech Republic in 1997 in the ZVVZ team under Jiří Ženíšek. How do you remember that time?
Yes- It was nice. Sometimes I SMSs with Ženíšek. He is glad to see me. Or he congratulates me on my birthdays. I have a good relationship with him, because it was really a nice time. It was my first professional contract with several good races. I won Round the Lower Saxony race, I was the third in the Peace Race. We had good riders in our team: Tomáš Konečný, Slavomír Heger, Kejval brothers, Tomáš Sedláček.
Do you still remember any Czech words?
Pivo… and other, but they cannot be printed.
At present there are only two Czech cyclists in the Pro Tour teams: Roman Kreuziger and František Raboň. What do you think about them?
Kreuziger is a big talent! It is unbelievable, how strong he is. Certainly he can be an aspirant for titles in the Grand Tours. When you win the Tour of Switzerland, you are not that far from winning a Grand Tour. And in addition he is very young. When I was racing among the amateurs the first year, I used to race with his father, who was at that time in an Austrian team. And today I race with his son – it is unbelievable.
And František Raboň?
A good time trialist, he was the champion of Europe. In the past years his growth has not been a good as he wanted, but this year he has made a great progress. I think that we can expect great things from him in future. And he has a good personality off the bicycle. Generally speaking my relationships with Czechs are very good, and I do not say this because you are Czech – they have always been excellent. You are a very friendly nation. E. G. I remember a ski camp with Jiří Ženíšek. I had some very bad skis, my technique was terrible and everyone expected me to fall at each downhill. But people kept on teaching me to ski as best as possible. Really, a lot of Czechs I have met were very friendly.
On Facebook, one of your fans wrote of you: Jens Voigt is the most pleasant guys in the peloton. Is that correct?
Thanks. I try. I ride hard, try to escape from the peloton, but at the same time I try to be a pleasant man with a good nature. I am quite normal off my bike.
You were a spokesman of cyclist in the UCI. Was it complicated to promote their interests?
Sometimes yes. I spoke for all riders, people from Japan, Sweden, Italy or South Africa. They did not have the same opinions concerning a lot of issues; it was difficult to reach an agreement. But it was a challenge for me, I liked it.
Three years ago all people were saying: Professional cycling is seriously ill …
Do you think the problems of doping at that time? Or with the UCI?
Let us speak about doping. What do you think of the attempts to clean up cycling? You have always been a big opponent of doping.
Yes I have been. There is no apology for doping. Everybody knows that it is bad thing, a fraud, a lie. Everybody knows that is harmful not only for the rider, but for the sport. People who do such things are against cycling. Three years ago it was really bad. But we have improved the monitoring system. The testing is better, there are more tests. Cycling was the first sport in the world to test CERA, a new type of EPO. We try very hard to eliminate doping. Penalties are tougher than in other sports, in any other organization. When people are caught they receive a two year ban and therefore our sport will be cleared which is good.
When I spoke with Bobby Julich in this spring, one of the directors of Team Saxo Bank, he spoke of “several idiots”, who destroy the reputation of cycling, but he also said that similar type of people worked in other sports. Do you agree?
Sure, such notorious minorities can be found in other sports, politics and other professions. But when a car manufacturer produces bad cars, we don’t immediately think that all car manufacturers are bad. In cycling there are several idiots, who destroy the reputation of all of us. Believe me: It annoys me very much. My friends and relatives keep on asking me: What is happening in your sport? Is it impossible to win without doping? Or people will ask my wife: Your husband takes it too, does he not? These rumors and opinions are harmful for my personal life, it annoys me. Therefore, our doping program must be very strict. We must put a stop to doping.
You have mentioned your family. You have five children, the same number as tennis player Lendl. Is it difficult to be a professional cyclist and at the same time father of five children?
No, I don’t think so. First of all: Cycling is my work and thanks to it I have money to pay for our house, my children’s school, food, shoes, toys, whatever. I make my living by it. Yes, during the season I travel much and often race at weekends. But then I have a free weekday, I take my children to and from school, we go to have an ice-cream, to have a swim, go to the lake. If I had an 8-18 workday, I would not be with them much either. And after the season we usually spend a lot of time together. Due to cycling my children can go abroad with me, get in touch with other languages and cultures, which is helpful for their growth. No, it is not a disadvantage for me to be a cyclist.
Can you imagine that you would live without cycling?
Perhaps for a year. Then I would start missing it and I would want to come back, perhaps to another position in the team. I can hardly imagine my life without cycling.