End of an Error

Jens, always up against it. Photo: Wil Matthews
Jens, always up against it. Photo: Wil Matthews

Jens Voigt is set to retire as we speak, having one final crack at a long break in some race in the Cycling backwater of the USA. Is it fair or fitting that he should go out like this, slipping out the back door with little fanfare, while others have been doing a farewell tour of all the big races, replete with fancy commemorative shoes and a song and dance? It’s probably apt that Jens is just doing what he’s always done: getting on with the job at hand and not saying too much. It’s almost like he’s been given the Golden Handshake, received his gold watch (well, another Trek), and gently herded out of the room, along with the elephant.

There’s no doubt that Jens is a hero to almost the entire cycling world; fans and contemporaries alike instantly warm to the big guy. He’s probably a great bloke to get on the beers with, keeping everyone entertained with his goofy German sense of humour (an oxymoron, I know) and regaling his enthralled audience with stories of that time he towed the peloton up the Galibier, dropping pure climbers like flies one by one. And because he’s a big, goofy, lovable German, no-one would even consider to question his morals or ethics when it comes to his role in the sport, and his considerable time in it. He’s Jens, he’s a bloody legend.

There’s always double standards applied when it comes to our Cycling heroes. Pantani: revered, matyred. Gunderson: condemned. Contador: forgiven, re-accepted. Valverde: despised. O’Grady, Rogers: well, they’re Australian, so even though they admitted/tested positive, no Aussie would ever cheat, right? They’re just lovable larrikins who got caught in the crossfire, and were unlucky or only “did it once”. Sir, your pig is fuelled and ready for take-off.

I’ve loved watching Jens going on crazy long breaks, laughed at the many soundbites he’s provided us, and he was even convinced to mouth our catchcry, although he probably had no clue as to what he was being cajoled into. He always has time for his fans, and that’s a sign of a true champion of the people. Imagine if Gunderson was a bit more humourous, if he’d cracked a few jokes instead of cracking skulls, if he’d told some part of his body to ‘shut up’ instead of telling other riders to do the same. Maybe he’d still be squeaky clean in the eyes of the fans, just like Jens.

While I respect a man who has ridden at the front of the peloton for 20 years and well into his 40s, and take inspiration from that, I can’t just sit here and digest every stock-standard quote that is rolled out. Jens came from one of the world’s most notorious doping programs in the East German system, but somehow wasn’t earmarked for the treatment. He rode professionally from 1997, the height of the EPO era, through Festina, through the Gunderson years, through the Landis/Rasmussen/Contador years. Yet he saw nothing. He rode on teams with more than a sprinkling of convicted and/or known dopers, yet he heard nothing. He rode under Directors Sportif who oversaw some of the biggest doping programs ever witnessed, yet he witnessed nothing himself. He continued to race at the same high level, and above, as the world’s best racers, well past the age when they threw in the towel, yet he wants us to believe he’s done it all on mineral water and sauerkraut.

While I love the guy, I’m not stupid, and neither are the cycling public. We don’t need to be treated like fools by every rider that ever rode in the Pro ranks, but we are, still. Even Gunderson has admitted he’d still be lying to us all, his family, children and cancer community if he hadn’t been outed. That’s the mentality of the Omérta in action. Jens is as old school as they come, and unfortunately he’s taking that mindset with him into retirement.

I wish Jens all the best, but I also wish he’d shown the same hardman qualities off the bike as he did on it, and spoken out about what he did actually see, hear and do. That would make him even more a legend.

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125 Replies to “End of an Error”

  1. Smashed it – 51.115.

    He was really killing it in the last laps. Fantastic effort.

  2. @Gianni

    What a stud. This will get a few guys fired up.

    Indeed. Step up the Panzerwagen, Spartacus, Wiggo et al. Let’s see this get competitive!

    Interesting that Jens used a very standard helmet and no oversocks. Nice mix of modern materials and some “old school” stuff.

  3. That was fucking brilliant. Chapeau Jens.

    Can’t wait for the Wiggo/Panzer/Faboo scrap. Bring it on!

  4. I had this cranked on the radio at my shop today. The staff was very upset with the lack of their classic rock.

  5. @GogglesPizano

    @Gianni Yup. Thought I would tune in and out through the hour but I sat and watched it end to end!

    Same here. At 50 mins my palms were sweating. What a ride.

  6. One thing about Jens is he is just consistent. What a cool thing to know ones self so well and go into that effort and do it. If we had been watching Merckxs in Mehico you know we’d be thinking its a sure thing. Jens, on the other hand, while he has wins and hard man status has no 700 victories… but he has guts and that self knowledge to make it work.

  7. Underwhelmed with the record given the equipment he was allowed to use, and what other riders achieved with far inferior equipment. If he hadn’t got the record it would have been fucking humiliating  and a major marketing fail for Trek.

    I don’t know if the record will stand for long, now that the equipment seems to have been OKed and specialists will be able to have a crack at it and probably start setting some real peaks.

    And fuck Jens. There, I said it.

  8. @minion   Yeah but someone had to get the ball rolling and at least now there is a new target and likelihood there will be a spate of attempts if not a continued set of challengers.  I must admit though that I did think it was good to get in first yo get your name in the record books.

  9. I know he said he talked to Spartacus before deciding to ride. That conversation, I think they are friends, could have been pretty funny –

    “I’d like to do the hour, do you mind?”

    “Mind, why?  Oh no do it (snicker). It will be good to see what you do… It will be a good gage for my go.”

    – seriously I don’t think Jens ever thought that he’d be doing more than a bench mark and given that he is not a specialist nor a top champion I think he did a great effort that showed control and power. Also at the end he had fuel left so that if he had more experience he might have done more. At 43 this was not an underwhelming effort, actually he made something that has to be the worst bitch ride look like a walk in the park.

  10. Jens Voigt’s big ring is a 56, and his small ring … is also a 56. – Ancient Chinese proverb.

    Like @Brett, I don’t have any illusions of Voigt’s history and origins.  However, part of his appeal to me is that he was – and is – human.  Unlike most other famous riders, the mythos of Voigt isn’t built upon a palmares of memorable victories, but of almosts and could-have-beens.  His legendary breakaways usually failed, his attacks were stupid even in his own words.  And yet, as sure as the sun rises, you’d see him in another crazy solo breakaway the very next day.

    As mere mortals most of us hop in the fast Tuesday rides without any illusions of winning the townline sprint, but yet we still blast away on the last stretch home, bike swaying under the effort, vision blurry, legs burnings.  Personally, I can count the number of times that’s worked for me in my life on one hand, but without exception it’s fun every single time and that’s all that counts.  That’s how Jens Voigt has ridden for the last 3 decades, and that’s why I’ll miss him.

  11. He’s 43, he’s a legend, he has six kids and is the epitome of V.

    The rule change provided a loophole, an opportunity to get into the history books, and he was the first to fill his boots and get on with it. Even for a showman like him, just watching the coverage made me nervous. The idea of being the focus of millions of people’s attention for a couple of hours, every lap, facial expression, all the warm up, the ride itself, the post-ride media. You need more than just V for that, you need some big bollocks and no mistake.

    Did the modern kit confer an advantage? Yes, no doubt, even though it was a frankenstein hack road bike. Would he have broken the athlete’s hour record? Probably not, but he’d be the first to admit that. Point is, he tried it, he did it, convincingly enough for it to look good, his name is in the books, and all that data he generated will give Trek/Faboo a huge leg up when/if he fancies trying it himself.

    Chapeau Jens, is what I say.

  12. 51.850 I think.

    Looked easy for the first 40 mins or so, then started to look hard, then absolutely fucking brutal.

    I was welded to the screen. I find it hard to explain why one bloke riding around a track on his own for an hour is so gripping. But it just is.

    I think we need an hour record VSP…

  13. The USA may be the cycling backwater, but my beautiful home state (where Jens rode his final race) is wonderful. Just the other day, a recently retired pro (can’t remember who) said Boulder, CO is one of his favorite places to train. The whole US doesn’t suck. Just, you know, most of it.

  14. Fell across this article a bit by accident, but damn right.  CO has shown up for the Pro Cycling Challenge every single year.  The crowds were huge for Jens here.  Every host town has a huge crowd for this event and I know on the last day when it went through my neighborhood, the streets were lined all the way from here to downtown Denver with fans and packed on the circuit.  Shame it fell through in 16 and a sincere hope that it finds a way back next year.

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