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Interview with Jens Voigt
 
By Cathy Mehl
Date: 5/27/2006
Interview with Jens Voigt
 

I suppose that all cycling journalists have their favorite riders. I know in my head I carry a list of cyclists that I admire, a list of ones I want to interview, ones I want to see race, and ones I'd love to leisurely talk to over dinner and wine. For me, I have one such rider that appears on all the lists in my head, and that rider is Jens Voigt.

A few months ago I had the extreme pleasure of meeting and talking with Jens. I set the interview aside afterwards, almost like I had a little secret I wasn't quite ready to share just yet. I decided to hold off publishing the interview until Jens did something special in the season, as I presumed he would. On Stage 19 of the 2006 Giro Jens Voigt handed me the perfect opportunity to share this conversation.

Daily Peloton: To start with, I want to ask you about your kids. I know you like to talk about them.

Jens Voigt: Oh yeah, I love them. Of course I do, they're my kids! They're all good. And I want to point out that my four kids are all with the same woman! And we are still married! And we are still happy! That doesn't happen very often anymore these days.

DP: Jens, when we watch you race, you always come across as such a strong, aggressive rider. You are always attacking, attacking, attacking. Has that always been your style of racing?

Jens: Yeah, always. You have to look at what you are, realize what you can do. I can't beat Petacchi in a sprint, and I can't beat Lance Armstrong on a hilltop finish. So what is left for me? I learned to go with my abilities and to work them to the maximum. People might say that my attacking style is stupid because I have such a small chance of winning. But that small chance is so much bigger than no chance, sitting in a bunch and waiting to get butchered by the sprinters. So I would rather go with my small chance than have no chance at all.

When I was a neo-pro I used to room with Chris Boardman and I learned things from him. He would say to try to win, even if you might lose. But if you don't try, you're not going to get anywhere. I just keep that in my mind, and even if you only win one out of ten tries, that is one more than zero out of ten. Thank God not everyone thinks like this or there would be 150 people attacking all the time. This is the way I am, and I can get rid of my energy this way and I always like it.

Do you think you have to change this style if you are selected for the Tour team and the idea will be to give 100% to Ivan? Or will you still be given opportunities to try for something for yourself?

I guess....no, not "I guess," I am sure, that this year I have to change. This year it will be like the teams for Lance Armstrong. There will be one chief and eight Indians. Not five chiefs and four Indians. You need people to work. People ready to sacrifice everything they have for their captain. I will be with Ivan unless Bjarne tells me we need to create some pressure and he tells me to attack, so then I go. Maybe if things get wrapped up early then we can get some stage wins as a bonus, like last year for Savoldelli and George Hincapie. Actually I was really happy for George. I've known him for so long and he's such a good rider, and worked so hard for Lance for seven years, so that was really a nice win for him. So if anything comes along, that will be a bonus. But at the beginning of the Tour we will have eight helpers and Ivan.

But you'll be ready in case your chance comes to go.

Yep! I'll be ready!

CSC is becoming well-known for their pre-season Boot Camps. What do you think of these camps and what do they do for the team?

The camps are good. I couldn't do all of the exercises this time because I had a crash last year and had surgery on my shoulder. There is a metal piece in there and some screws now. So I had to be careful. It was a longer camp but less brutal. But since it was longer, it still wears you out. Since you sleep at 2 degrees with rain dripping on you in the forest it just kills you. Someone has to be awake throughout the night to tend to the fire so it doesn't go out and it doesn't burn down the entire forest. You get military gear, backpack, food rations. Those food rations are so terrible. All I can say about them is that they will keep you alive. Nothing else. They taste terrible.

The first part of the camp is the physical part. Then it's all about working together as a team. Then there is a part about overcoming your fears, like crawling through dark tunnels, holding a snake, stuff like that. The snake was terrible for some people. They didn't give us the biggest ones; they didn't want to get us killed!

I always think this camp has a big effect on us. People always say we have great team spirit, but for us it's not just a facade. We live up to that spirit. We really try hard to live up to that all year long. We enjoy seeing each other perform well and win. We're always ready to sacrifice to help somebody else. On our team everyone is always ready to take one more step to please the other one. It's not like someone says, "No, you take two steps and I'll wait for you." No, everyone does one step. As long as we keep this system going we create a stable community. Of course if someone tries to flick the system then it won't work. But we try to create a really strong unit. Boot Camp doesn't make us go faster at all. But it makes us go better! In the end when a crisis comes up and we have to work together, that's what gives us the winning edge. That's one of our secrets.

When I came to this team, Bjarne had already been doing the Boot Camps for two years. He told me he wanted to create the best team in the world and that meant we had to find new ways. So maybe people laugh about us doing the camps, but in three years time down the road when people realize what team building did for us and they decide to follow us, we already have the advantage of those three years and are moving ahead to the next thing. Some people might be laughing, but some people might be thinking maybe we're on to something.

Do you feel Bjarne brings out the best rider within you?

I will say that Bjarne has this almost magical ability to get the best out of every single rider. Whatever is their best, he brings that part out. I don't know how he does it. Just like when we are training. He rides in the car, but he isn't just waiting for hours to pass. He is watching all the pedal strokes of the riders and he makes individual decisions for each rider: "This rider looks tired, he needs to take time off. This one looks good, he needs to do one hour more. This one has trouble at home, we need to keep his spirits up and watch out for him." Things like this create a really complete picture of everybody. They know the status of everyone's abilities, and the status of their minds.

You've been a professional for quite awhile now. How do you continue to motivate yourself? I know you've had great wins and successes in your career, but am wondering as you get older is it harder to find that motivation to continue?

Well, I'm old school. So my motivation isn't just to win, but to be good. I like to race from my heart. I don't really plan things ahead of time. I don't look around and say, "Well the sun is shining, it's a nice day, I think I will attack." Sometimes it just feels right. And I like what I do. I have the best job in the world. I mean, I get paid to hurt other people!! How much better can it get? You know when I attack and hurt other people, well, that gives me pleasure! I like to look back and see their faces (distorted in pain). I like that!

I think being part of this team helps with motivation too. Of course every now and then you need a little success to keep yourself going. But I turned professional late and I still feel young in my head. I still have some good years in me and motivation is not a problem. I have at least two more years with CSC and maybe I will go another year after that. I think maybe I would like to end my career with this team. To go anywhere else after being here would be going backwards, really different. I don't think other teams can compare.

Do the German fans still give you grief for what they decided was your attack on Jan Ullrich in the 2004 Tour?

No, that was a one day thing. I was on a climb, so I wasn't going that fast so people could run 100 or 200 meters beside me and I will tell you they screamed everything possible in my ear. I couldn't go fast enough to not hear it. So I had a lot of time to think. I figured I could go away and hide or go out in the open and explain myself. So since my way is to go out and attack, I just can't wait. It poisons me inside to keep it in. I need to get it out. So that day I grabbed the first cameraman I could find and said, "Hey look, I've got to make this statement." I said it's just not right. In 2000 I helped Ullrich win an Olympic medal; I sacrificed myself there. I didn't betray anybody. I signed on the dotted line to work for CSC and they have my loyalty. It would be bad if I was not loyal to my teammates, or my captain Ivan Basso. It's not a national thing. And Jan was more than fair about that. He expressed to the press that I had not done anything wrong; that I did what was absolutely right and professional. If I had not done that, the next day Bjarne would have told me he didn't need me anymore, that I was not reliable. "You're fired!" So that's all good now. I guess I had to educate a few people.

You were quite animated after the Time Trial up Alpe d'Huez in 2004. As you were riding up did you ever have second thoughts about being there? Were you worried about your safety?

No, I was just hurt very deeply that day. Until then I had always only had positive press. People like me and I didn't get bad things said about me. But that day people were shouting at me and booing me. It was hurtful. I thought after all these years I've tried to walk a straight line and then one day something happened that turned things around. I also realized that Lance Armstrong went through that every single day in the Tour de France. How strong does he, and his team, have to be to put up with that? It's not fair. It's not a war. It's just a bike race!!

Can you tell me about the day you wore the Yellow Jersey in 2005 and what it meant to you?

Last year I was really sharp from the start of the Tour. I was like a loaded spring just waiting for Bjarne to let me go. Every day I would say, "Bjarne, Bjarne, can I go today?" and he'd say, "No, you stay in the peloton with Ivan." Next day, "Bjarne, Bjarne, can I go?" Same answer. One day Bjarne said, "Everyone stays with Ivan....except Jens, he can go today!" I was just hopping up and down. I was so focused on the escape. But I paid a high price for that. Last year the Yellow Jersey didn't bring good luck to many wearers except Lance. Zabriskie wore it and he crashed out. I had it and I went out with a big bang. Only Lance can take the pressure, apparently!

After watching Stage 19 in yesterday's Giro and seeing Voigt make the gesture for Juan Manuel Garate to ride ahead and take the stage win, I had a big smile on my face knowing that Jens Voigt stays true to himself and his beliefs as to what is right and what is fair. We'll remember his pat on Garate's shoulder, urging him to take the well-deserved win, long after we've forgotten the name of the stage winner. Congratulations to Jens, Ivan Basso, and all of CSC for a job well-done at the 2006 Giro d'Italia.

 
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