What's Cool In Road Cycling

Interview: JENS VOIGT PEZ-Clusive!

Jens Voigt is tough to track down, but once you get him talking…look out! The big German had lot’s to say and in refreshing European form – gave us some straight talk on chasing down Ullrich, the German press, Lance, and he even played along with the famous PEZ Bonus Round…

We’ve scored some amazing interviews with German riders this winter… First it’s Klaus-Peter Thaler, then Steffen Wesemann, and now Jens Voigt – I feel like that golfing priest in Caddyshack who shoots the round of his life in the lightning storm – everything’s going our way!

Jens on Alpe d’Huez at last year’s TDF.

Olivia Kaferly picks up the story…
It pays to have friends. In my case, I have the good fortune to frequent a bike shop with connections. My man on the inside is Maik Kresse, the owner of the shop, and he obligingly arranged for PEZ to hook up with Jens Voigt, a.k.a. the most aggressive racer in the peloton. With one of his most successful seasons behind him, and a new year which promises new ProTour challenges on the horizon, it seemed like a good time to make friends and get the inside scoop from one of the nicest, and most driven racers currently hammering those peddles.

There are few things we here at PEZ enjoy doing more than chatting with one of our idols, and Jens Voigt can certainly fit into that category. Anyone who saw his performance in stage 15 of the 2004 Tour will know why we say that. Not only did he sit at the front of the elite Armstrong-Basso group, pushing the pace to reel in a broken away Jan Ullrich, but after having been dropped on a climb, he caught back up to the group on the descent, and continued to push the pace even more. I don’t know about you, but man, it’s stuff like that that really makes my jaw drop.

PEZ: You have been voted the CSC rider of the year, congratulations.

JV: Yeah, we have an official supporter club, and they chose me, but I beat out Basso by only one percent or something. I think they chose me because I had a really consistent year, and Basso had that huge success in the Tour, but was perhaps a little less visible the rest of the time.

PEZ: You certainly were one of the most exciting things about the Tour this year, and had a fantastic year in general.

JV: Yeah, I think it was my consistency that made the people vote for me.

PEZ: What stands out in my mind from this year was when on stage 15, I think, in the Tour, was when Ullrich had broken away, and you were called to lead the group including Basso and Armstrong up to Ullrich’s breakaway. We just watched that again a couple of days ago, where you pulled for a long time, and then got dropped on one of the last climbs, but on the descent caught back up to Basso and Armstrong, and then immediately started pushing the pace for the group again. That was just amazing to see how you were just powering through.

JV: Yeah, yeah, that’s right. There was that last long climb, and on the final attacks I got dropped, but in the descent I managed to get back on, and came back right away to the front of the group. I thought, well, okay, I’ve got nothing left, so I might as well try to go as much as possible.

PEZ: Yeah, well, that was so cool and really impressive, easily one of the most exciting things about the Tour for me this year.

JV: I paid for that effort the next day on the Alpe D’Huez time trial because all the German supporters were shouting at me, I heard every bad word you can imagine. Armstrong was also one of their favourite (targets); Armstrong has to put up with that shit too. The stage 15 was a bit of a coincidence, because it was like for two hours there was a co-existence of our two teams’ interests. Because at that point Ivan Basso was still in second place, and we really wanted to defend that second place. Ullrich was threatening the team’s standing, so of course we tried to pull him back. I mean some people might say, “Ah, you don’t defend second place…”, fuck, we do! You know, I look at Lance as in a different league. Lance is Lance. But we were the best of the rest, and that’s great for us. You know we can think about Lance, and maybe we can beat him next year, but this year he was too strong for us, an the best we could hope for would be a second place, or a podium finish. And for us it was a major success. So of course we defend our second or third place.

PEZ: I was a bit surprised by some of the German TV coverage that wondered what you were doing reeling in Ullrich again, and they didn’t seem to understand what the sport was about, do you think that cycling is largely misunderstood in Germany – or in general – as not being a team sport?

JV: Um, well, yeah. They obviously misunderstood that “team” is not a national team. How can they say, “Why is Jens doing that? What is he doing to his old friend Jan Ullrich?” Well, for god’s sake, if I get the order from my boss, that my team leader needs me, come back and help, well that is what I am going to do. There is no doubt that is what I’m going to do. And that’s what hurts me the most because I have worked for years to have a clean image of a guy who walks straight, and is loyal. A good man in sport and life. I really try not to step on other people’s toes, or be judgemental. And then in a few moments, these people who don’t understand the sport, call all that work into question. I mean, I pour all my loyalty and honesty into my team. Once I sign on the dotted line, that team has my full loyalty. That’s the way I look at it. That is my honour, to work for the team and work with the team. The people who criticized me seem to forget that four years ago in Sydney, I worked my ass off for Jan Ullrich, who was our team leader at the Olympics; I finished 65th and he won the gold medal. I give everything I have for my captain, but it is only one day a year, or at the Olympics, that we race for our national teams. The rest of the year, we have our commercial teams. But you know, it is more than teams, they are also your friends, who at some races help you, so you have to help them back. So it was really hurting me, big time, when I heard all that crap. I tried hard to be a straight guy, but then it all got thrown back in my face.

PEZ: Maybe it was just a lot of new comers to the sport that didn’t know what they were talking about, because I’m sure you’re highly respected by all those “in the know”. I mean, they don’t get mad at some German playing on a Spanish football team, scoring against Bayern Munich.

JV: No, you know, I think it was a combination of things. First of all, Ullrich wasn’t coming up to their dreams and expectations. Second, maybe not all of them were experts, but were there instead for the show, and excitement. And then you listen to the TV commentary, and those guys were out for days in the sun partying, and were probably quite drunk by the time the race (ed: on Alpe d’Huez) came around.

Of course, then afterwards I had my words with the TV commentators that were wondering why I had worked against Ullrich – you know you have two choices, you can either hide away and brood about it, or you can get it off your chest and out in the open, and that’s what I did. So I went to the commentators, and said, that it was absolutely not right the way I was treated because I never hurt anybody, I always give it my best, whatever I do and I was really afraid that some people were going to slash me off the bike. Yeah, so I just had to set it straight, get the frustration off my chest.

But you know, it gave me a little bit of an idea about how Lance feels. Because he has a hard time everyday. People don’t like him. Like with the French press, they don’t really like him, and never refer to him by his name, but as “l’Americain”; it like if the American press would refer to Alain Prost, you know the Formula 1 driver, not by his name, but as “that French guy”. Show some respect for God’s sake!

I mean Lance is six times Tour de France winner – fucking hell! – show some respect. But the people like Ullrich because he always take second, I mean, what’s that about? Okay, so Lance doesn’t like to talk to the press too much, but I wonder why? Right? Lance is just the perfect example of the perfect Pro. You know, he should be an idol for young people. But they keep trying to call him positive (a doper), what a bunch of bullshit.

I mean, he is a hard guy, very determined and very professional. Maybe at the Tour de France he doesn’t smile so much and make jokes, but that is the most important race in the year for him, and he is very focused on winning the race, not winning over the press or his critics. But that is totally normal. I don’t think Michael Schumacher smiles that much when he is driving his Formula 1 car in a race. It is his job and he is serious about it. And he is the best. I don’t know why people don’t show more respect.

Jens is a fan fave – here kindly posing with our own Dave Aldersebaes at the Tour de Georgia last year.

PEZ: Yeah, I don’t know. There is a bit of a pall over cycling with the issue of doping and concerns about whether someone is clean or not.

JV: Well, people are just jealous. You know, Lance works hard, and he pulls through and accomplishes what he sets out to do, and people are just jealous that he is so good. Because he makes it look so easy.

PEZ: Yeah, anyone who saw some of those Lance Chronicles this past year has no doubt how much energy and dedication he puts into cycling.

JV: That’s what makes him so good. I mean, I still believe to this day that Jan Ullrich has the bigger engine, but Lance is the more dedicated driver of the engine. Lance may be a little less naturally gifted than Ullrich, but he makes up for any tiny difference by dedicating everything to knowing the race inside out. He knows the course, he knows his body, he looks at his team, and gets the strongest possible team around him, and keeps to his regime in a way that he knows will make him the best. You know, maybe Lance has five horsepower less than Ullrich, it’s not much at their level. You can’t be at that level and have 50 horsepower less, look at me, I have 50 horsepower less, but between them, there is a really small difference, and Lance makes it up by making all the conditions perfect for himself. And that’s how he wins.

PEZ: That’s cool. Now, as they say, for something completely different. If you were a pop star, who would you be?

JV: Oh, well, I would have to be Metalica. You know their music is so powerful and thumping that it is really good for warming up before a time trial or something.

PEZ: Is that what you listen to while training?

JV: No I don’t do much music listening while training, but I really like to listen to Metalica before a race or something.

PEZ: What’s your favourite brand of beer?

JV: Brand of beer?

PEZ: Yeah, or are you more of a wine guy?

JV: Ah, nooo, I don’t trust any guy who wants to sit down for a glass of wine with me. No I’m definitely a beer man. Uhm, I guess at the moment, my tastes tend toward Corona.

PEZ: That’s cool. I’m into the Belgian beers at the moment, like the Leffes and Duvals.

JV: Yeah, I’ve been there too.

PEZ: What would you watch first: Tatort [ed: German NYPD Blues] or MTV Dismissed?

JV: Well, you know those Tatorts have rotating casts, so some are better than others, but I guess I would have to go with MTV Dismissed anyways.

PEZ: What’s your favourite movie?

JV: I don’t know that I have an absolute favourite. But I really like the movies. I don’t go, though, to be really made to think or to get all intellectual about them. I like to be entertained, life is too hard already, I don’t need to see it up on the movie screen too. But a day or two ago my wife and I saw Ocean’s 12.

PEZ: Oh, how was that?

JV: It was pretty good, you know, a good sort of Hollywood film.

(And with that, having taken up enough of his valuable time with his children, the PEZ crew heartily thanked Jens for the talk and being so friendly and open. )

JV: Don’t you want to ask about my kids?

PEZ: Yeah, of course. But I didn’t want to pry.

JV: Oh, no, I love my kids and love talking about them. There’s Marc who is 9, and he has a little brother, Julien, who is 5, and a baby sister Adriana who is one and a half. And then we have probably a second little girl coming in May. My wife, Stephanie and I are very happy with that.

PEZ: Thanks Jens, that’s great. And congratulations on the new arrival! Maybe in the new year we can meet up and do a family/cycling-friendly car test drive, like we talked about.

JV: Yeah sure, get in touch with me at the end of April. I’ll have some time then.

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