Retro PEZ Talk: Jens Lehmann
Retro Interview: You could say Jens Lehmann was unlucky to have been competing in the pursuit event at a time when there were many top riders fighting for rainbow jerseys and Olympic gold medals. Ekimov, Boardman, Obree, Bartko, Moreau and Ermenault were all dominant in those years, but take a look at the palmarès of Jens Lehmann and you can see he battled them all. Ed Hood caught up with Jens for some Retro talk.
Barcelona 1992 and Chris Boardman rides his Lotus ‘super bike’ to a gold medal in the Olympic Individual Pursuit final, catching his opponent, Jen Lehmann in the process. Boardman went on the professional glory taking the pro pursuit and time trial world titles, the hour record, Tour de France prologues and time trials all over Europe.
But the man he caught was no mean athlete, Germany’s Jens Lehmann’s first international success came with the silver medal in the Worlds individual pursuit in 1989 behind the legendary Viatcheslav Ekimov; but he was still winning Worlds medals in 2002 – individual pursuit bronze and team pursuit silver. Along the way came two world individual pursuit titles, four world team pursuit titles, two Olympic team pursuit golds, two Olympic individual pursuit silvers and a host of Worlds, World Cup and nationals podiums as well as some serious results on a road bike.
Stretching at the Sydney Olympics
But Lehmann never deserted his beloved ‘bahn’ and wasn’t lured by the bigger pay days the road offers. And he was still winning the national individual and team pursuit titles as recently as 2004. He has to be up there with the HH Ørsteds and Hugh Porters as one of the world’s best ever pursuit riders; here’s what he had to say to PEZ:
PEZ: Remind us of your medal tally please, Jens.
Jens Lehmann: I’ve won 85 medals at national and international championships; 14 of them I earned during world championships and four of them during the Olympics.
PEZ: Where and when was your first race, how did it go?
My first race was in 1980 in the town of Goelzau; it went quite OK for being my first race, I finished in 21st place.
PEZ: And your first win?
One week later actually, so also in 1980 this time in Merseburg.
1989 Worlds in Lyon
PEZ: Second in the German Individual Pursuit Championships in 1989, was that your first big result?
No, that wasn’t really my first big result. For example in 1988 I was in the team which set a new world record during the national championship team pursuit.
The World champion in 1989: Viatcheslav Ekimov
PEZ: The 1989 Worlds saw you take the silver medal behind Ekimov.
Yes, I felt just great and really confirmed – this was my first international success.
PEZ: In 1991 you won double Worlds gold in the individual and team pursuit – biggest memory of that?
My biggest memory of that is that I was so overwhelmed that I kissed the boards of the Stuttgart track. With those results a childhood dream had come true.
Barcelona Olympics 1992
PEZ: Barcelona 1992 and Boardman came from nowhere to win – were you surprised?
No, actually I wasn’t surprised at all; I’d been sick for quite a while, so what really did surprise me was that I was even able to take part in the Olympic competition.
PEZ: And the other ‘Brit’ pursuiter, Obree – your thoughts?
I have always accepted Obree and to be honest I think he deserves a huge amount of respect regarding his unique ideas and his great performances.
World championships in Manchester
PEZ: And you took team pursuit gold in Barcelona.
Yes, it was special indeed – to take part in the Olympics is a huge honor; but winning gold is simply the greatest feeling for an athlete.
PEZ: Stagiaire with Telecom in ’94 but no contract – and you never did ride for a big team?
My heart simply beats for track cycling and since there hasn’t been a big team for track specialists I have stayed with the smaller ones where I can ride my own program.
PEZ: German Individual Time Trial Champion in ’94.
Yes, but like I said, switching to the road would have been the end of my track career and as I have already said, my heart belongs to the track.
Time trial action in the Hessen Rundfahrt
PEZ: And that same year you won the GP Telekom two man TT with Toni Rominger.
It definitely proved my strength concerning the road since we beat Boardman, but I can`t mention it enough that the track will always stay my favorite.
1996 and Chris Boardman again
PEZ: Seasons ’95 to ’98, national success but not at world or Olympic level?
My success came back once I had a new coach as well as new training partners in 1997/1998.
PEZ: Season 1999 team pursuit Worlds gold and individual silver; was it less painful to beaten by team mate Robert Bartko than anyone else?
Yes; seeing a team mate winning is always better than someone else. And since we later on all together won gold as a team, there was really just reason to be happy.
World champion’s photo card
PEZ: The year 2000 saw you as double World Champion; Olympic Team Pursuit Champion and individual Olympic silver again; a special season but did you go in thinking you could beat Bartko?
Yes, because I had already won against him in 1999 and 2000 during the national pursuit championships. The race was really open and depended on the day to day form of each one of us. In simple words the world`s two best track pursuit cyclists raced against one another and one needed to win and so he did.
PEZ: 2001/2002 and the rise of the Aussies in team pursuiting – did you see that coming?
Australia has a history of excellent cyclists, who always train hard and prepare themselves as well as possible. So yes, I did see that coming.
Worlds team pursuit in Antwerp: Jens Lehmann, Sebastian Siedler, Guido Fulst and Christian Bach
PEZ: 2004 and the National Team Pursuit Championship with a certain Tony Martin – did you think he would go as far as he has?
Tony has always been a very good athlete and I did really hope he would go far. It makes me happy to witness him making it as far as he has.
PEZ: 14 seasons between your first and last Worlds medals – silver in the team and bronze in the individual pursuits in 2002 – how did you maintain motivation all those years?
I simply love cycling!
Jens Lehmann and Jimmi Madsen at the Berlin 6 Day
PEZ: And your last race was?
It has been a track race on September 17th 2005 in my home town Leipzig – I took second place.
PEZ: What do you do now?
I work as educator in an elementary school. And since 2004 I’ve been working in the city council of Leipzig and right now I candidate as sitting member for the German Bundestag. I want to make politics come alive, to not just promote sports but society as well.
PEZ: Any regrets?
To be honest, I wouldn’t change a thing. Every success and every defeat made me who I am now and brought me to where I am at now – married to my beautiful wife Gabi, father of two wonderful children and happy with what I am doing.
Jens Lehmann (Team Kostritzer)
# Thanks to Jens for his time and to Tony Graham for his unique photos. #
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,200 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.