On an evening with Jens Voigt

Wonderful Boyfriend thinks I spend too much time on cycling forums. He’s probably right. However the other day I did see a post saying that Jens Voigt was coming to a local bike shop called Criterium Cycles to do a question and answer session. So I emailed Wonderful Boyfriend asking if he’d like to go. This appears to have been a stupid question. So we went and it was really interesting, and I thought I would put down some of my impressions. The questions were put by the journalist & broadcaster Jonathan Legard who was excellent – he started off with some questions of his own but also would follow up questions from the audience with another question or two to draw out some more about whatever Jens had been talking about.

Jens was asked about the best cyclists he’s raced with and mentioned two: Fabian Cancellara and Chris Boardman.  He obviously has a lot of respect for Boardman – he was helpful to Voigt when he was an up and coming young cyclist. (At bit of research on Wikipedia suggests they were both in the GAN/Credit Agricole team). Voigt spoke of the career of a sportsman being like a circle; in the early part you learn from others, and towards the end you give back what you have learned to younger people; and he said he got that from Chris Boardman. He respected him as an athlete too.

Voigt was also asked about his best moments as a cyclist. I thought his answer was one of the most interesting things he said. He gave two. One was a Tour de France which his team leader won the overall classification and all of the team (all 9 riders) made it to Paris (I can’t remember what Voigt said, but I think this must have been the 2008 Tour, with Carlos Sastre the winner). The other was a Paris-Nice (I think) which a good friend of his won and Voigt was happy because he’d done everything he could to help his friend win. Wonderful Boyfriend said afterwards that that sums up what Jens was really good at, being a good domestique and working for the team.

The elephant in the room when talking to a pro cyclist is, of course, the subject of doping. I thought that, given the nature of the evening (come and have a nice Q&A with our friendly cyclist) , the elephant might have been left in the corner and ignored. After all, anyone who knows who Jens Voight is would know all about doping. And indeed, no one in the audience asked anything about it. It was Jonathan Legard who brought the subject up and asked about Lance Armstrong. Wonderful Boyfriend thought Voight looked quite uncomfortable, but he did answer the question. Well, what he said was that he thought that Armstrong had been heavily punished compared with other dopers and he should be allowed to do stuff like run a marathon for charity. And he said something about young cyclists not having to deal with the issues and pressures he and his generation had to deal with. It did come over a bit that he was waffling to say the “right” thing.

Something that might have surprised someone who didn’t know much about pro cycling was his attitude to crashes. He was asked about his worst accident and told us about one (which is I think quite well known) where he crashed on a descent and had some very nasty injuries, including a head injury of some kind. He said that for him it was important that that was not the end of his career, and although his wife would have preferred it if he had stopped at that point, she understood that he had to continue. He wasn’t worried about crashing again but when he started back he was concerned about how the hard efforts would affect him; once he knew that was ok he just got on with it.

Jens was asked about the Hour Record a couple of times. He said that in retrospect he could have gone harder in the middle 20 minutes but he had in mind that Eddie Merckx said something along the lines of the Hour was the hardest thing he (Merckx) had done so he didn’t want to overcook it. But the last few minutes, when he knew he’d got the record and it would be the last thing he’d ever do as a pro cyclist, they were great (if painful). Apparently his attempt got some massive number of hits/views (after all, a person cycling round in circles for an hour isn’t that interesting, in theory) and he reckoned that at least some of the subsequent interest has been due to other sponsors/teams looking to generate similar interest! He was also asked about Bradley Wiggins – he appeared to consider “Do you think Wiggins can beat the record?” a bit of a stupid question, given Wiggins’ TT abilities and track background, it was more a question of how much. Jens thought 54 – 55 km, and that once that sort of standard was set there won’t be so many people wanting to have a go – there are no prizes in this one for being second!

Jens and his wife have 6 children (he felt the need to make it clear that this is his only wife, not some complicated arrangement from various marriages!) He was asked if he would encourage them to make a career in sport: his response was that he and his wife agreed that their children should participate in sport, because that has lots of benefits for them as people, but he would neither encourage nor discourage them from making a career of it. He did say that his oldest son, who is 15, is in a cycling club but decided he doesn’t want to race, just enjoy the social side of things. And Jens, perhaps slightly to his own surprise, is absolutely fine with that. Maybe one of his daughters, who are younger, might be the pro… that brought out a strong statement in support of women’s cycling, women work just as hard as the men, they suffer as much, their sport needs more support.

On retirement: Jens was very emphatic that he’s not going to make a comeback. What was more interesting was his statement that he needs some space away from doing sport. He hasn’t touched his bike for months (he’s been running and doing inline skating to keep active and ‘train down’) – he’s got no desire to go out in the cold and the rain. Maybe when the better weather comes he’ll feel like going for a ride. (Then he did admit that he’d looked at some crazy mountain bike race in Alaska or somewhere. Once.) What he has done is get a qualification to be a directeur sportif and he intends to get experience observing and assisting others so it appears that that is something he’d like to get in to. I think it was mentioned that he’s doing some media work as well.

After the Q&A was over an enormous queue formed to meet the man himself. Jens had said that he wasn’t going until he’d met everyone who wanted to meet him! Wonderful Boyfriend and I therefore didn’t rush to join the queue, but chatted to a few people we knew before queuing up. I’ve got a really rubbish photo of W.B. and Jens, but one of the shop people took a rather better one of the three of us. Rather absentmindedly, I went and stood by Wonderful Boyfriend and not by Jens, so in the photo W.B. is in the middle. Note to self, if you are getting your photo taken “with” someone, go and stand by them…

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In which I come over all Daily Mash

People in Edinburgh fell about laughing yesterday as a protest against 20mph limits attracted a vast crowd of 39 people. The protesters, who wanted to retain their rights to intimidate old ladies and children, make streets more unpleasant places with increased noise and pollution, burn more petrol, encourage the “school run” and discourage children walking or cycling to school, and travel at a speed where accidents are more likely to seriously injure or kill, don’t seem to care that 40% of households in Edinburgh don’t have access to a car, or that 60% of respondents to a survey were in favour of 20mph limits. No, they just want to drive about as fast as possible.

Cyclists in the city, meanwhile, are not going to point out that 4000 people turned up to ask for safer speeds where people live, work and play, strategic & joined up road user training, sensible road traffic law and enforcement, a reduction of the risk of HGVs to cyclists and pedestrians, and a bunch of other good things. No, they aren’t going to mention that at all.

On a New Year

Well, once again I have not blogged for ages. I’m struggling to find a good time to do it.

Something my niece said to me has stuck, though. She got a new bike for her 7th birthday. “Our new bikes are too big for the pavement and too small for the road,” she said. It is true, too. The pavements round where she lives are quite narrow. It isn’t an old estate, 1960s or 70s I guess, they just didn’t build big pavements. And if I was an elderly person or a mother with a buggy I wouldn’t be happy about being buzzed by a boisterous 7-year-old. But the roads are not very wide either, and even though the houses have garages and spaces to park cars off the road, there are still cars parked on the road. I mean, I would cycle on that road quite happily, but I’m an adult and I can make myself nice and big if I have to. When you get to the bottom of the road, there’s a road with much older houses with no car parking, so cars get parked along both sides of that. Even as an adult, you have to peer out carefully to check that nothing is coming. So the bikes don’t get used much.

The house I grew up in is on the main road into the town where we lived. It allegedly has a 30mph speed limit. The “allegedly” will tell you what actually happens… When we were children we had to walk our bicycles along the pavement to the corner where you could get into an estate where we could cycle round and round, and play with our friends who lived round there.* Later we were allowed to go further afield – but you always had to walk along the main road! It is funny how far things seem to a child – I recently ran one of our favourite long routes as a training run and it is only about 8 miles! I still feel a bit guilty when I cycle on the main road… You do actually get quite a lot of cyclists (by British standards) on that road at the weekend as club groups come out from the nearest city.

I don’t think there’s anywhere like our safe little estate for my niece to cycle, though. And I wonder if that safe place is so safe now – there are more parked cars, of course, and parked cars hide children on bikes very well. I did buy the family a track pump for Christmas, so next time I go to visit we might get to go for a cycle.

(*Even when we were learning to drive, whichever parent was sitting with us would bring the car out of the drive and then pull over so the learner could swap – you knew your parents were comfortable with your driving when you were allowed to reverse out yourself… The Highway Code suggests that you reverse into a driveway and drive out – I’m not sure why my parents didn’t do this, although I suspect that driving in and reversing out feels as though it isn’t holding up the traffic so much…)

P.S. I decided I fancied a new “Theme” for the blog – with a photo. It isn’t a particularly WiSoB-ish photo, though. Maybe I’ll get a better one sometime…