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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