Yesterday one of the most enduring figures in cycling, Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing), took his final bow as part of the professional peloton, during the final stage of the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado. He made his exit in exactly the same manner with which he had carried himself throughout his career; he attacked. Firstly as part of the days thirteen man breakaway, then as part of a five man group that dropped the rest of the break on the climb of Lookout Mountain, and finally, with his trademark lung-bursting long range attack which dropped all bar one of his companions, Javier Megias Leal (Team Novo Nordisk). With a sprint finish in sight the bunch was bearing down behind, they swept past Voigt and Megias in the closing kilometres, as had always seemed likely. In truth the attack was doomed to fail from the outset, a fool's errand, and Voigt knew that, but every now and then the fool wins, and that is why a fighter like Voigt keeps on trying.
Some retiring riders may have chosen to take it easy in their last race, perhaps enjoying a ceremonial late attack to soak up the applause, before a safe finish within the pack. Voigt eschewed that easy option, prefering to be true to himself instead, as he admitted after the race:
“I was trying to be a professional to my last minute on the bike. I knew that there was a fair chance that a break would go and I made sure I was in that break. I just tried to be a force to be reckoned with until the last moment on the bike. I was trying one last time, gave it a go, and I missed again a few kilometers, but hey I can’t change that. Now there’s no more suffering, no more stress, no more risk of crashing – that was a high priority for me today to keep the rubber side down. [Today was] one more time to show myself, one more time to give it all I have, and now I have a one big, large, long holiday ahead of me.”
During his career Voigt has raced against and alongside some of the greats of the sport, but it seems fitting that he finished his career on a Trek Factory Racing team full of youthful promise. Though he is 42, Voigt has always seemed young at heart, a charismatic rider of great enthusiasm. He also possesses the knowledge and experience to teach those young riders the best way to fulfil their potential; approach each stage as though it might be your last, and race to win rather than to avoid losing. It was that drive to be the best he could be, to master the terrain, his opponents and most of all, his own body, that made Voigt the rider he was.
When cyclists retire we tend to remember their most notable successes, their famous wins, and Voigt has had those, highlighted by two stage wins in the Tour de France and one at the Giro d'Italia. However with Jens Voigt it is the memory of the way he raced that will linger longest. With his relentless attacks and unflappable spirit, this champion of lost causes became an icon for fans the world over. As Voigt himself has acknowledged:
"All these years of straight forward hard work that people appreciate. Every single win I earned because I worked hard for it, no tricky wins, and no lucky wins. I had many, many failures in my career, many times that I got caught, like this week twice, and I just don’t give up. I think that is what the people appreciate. You are allowed to fall down, but you have to get up, dust yourself off, and go again. I have had terrible crashes, great triumphs; my career is full of special moments. Who can say that he did 20 kilometers in the Tour de France on a children’s bike? Who can say he was flown off by helicopter [after a bad crash] and came back 12 weeks later for the next race? Who has six children and is still a world-class athlete? There are a whole lot of these moments in my career that have inspired people. What’s next? Well if I can freely choose I will go straight to my book shop, a real quiet and slow job where there is no pain involved. Or I would sign up with Discovery Channel and do commentary about lions and sharks.”
Almost everyone who is involved with, or who follows cycling has their own favourite Jens Voigt story, such as the time he found himself riding a child's bike during the Tour de France, a story you can hear Voigt tell in the video below.
The peloton will be a poorer place without Jens Voigt, but he has definitely earned his rest; if going home to his wife, six children and their dog Linda, can truly be called a rest. It's hard to imagine Jens will leave the sport entirely, he could coach and he would certainly be a natural behind the microphone, commentating on the sport he loves. It's also easy to see Jens Voigt as a directeur sportif, driving beside the break with his window down and yelling "shut up legs" as encouragement. But the days of Jens Voigt the rider have come to an end, all we can do is thank him for the memories and wish him well for the future, by offering him one last Chapeau!!!