Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan) will be back at the start line for one of his favorite races of the year in this weekend’s Critérium International, but he admits his chances of a history-making sixth victory are slim.
The 40-year-old shares the record of five overall titles with Emile Idée and Raymond Poulidor, but since race organizers moved the race to the mountainous islands of Corsica, Voigt knows his chances of a record sixth title face a headwind.
That hasn’t tempered his enthusiasm for the three-stage, two-day race, often called the “mini-Tour de France” because it includes a time trial, a mountain stage and a transition stage typically favoring the sprinters.
“Obviously, it remains one of my favorite races. I like to go back again, even though the route has changed again,” Voigt told VeloNews. “This year we have the TT the first day with the road stage, then the big mountain stage on Sunday, so we will see how it develops. We will send a good team again.”
Voigt will join defending champion Fränk Schleck with a strong RadioShack-Nissan team for this weekend’s race.
The popular German marauder first won the race back in 1999, when he beat back David Millar in the hilly French Ardennes region that better-suited his style of racing.
He was third in 2001 and second in 2003, winning again in 2004. Ex-CSC teammates Bobby Julich and Ivan Basso won in 2005 and 2006, respectively, and Voigt then won three-in-a-row through 2009.
Race organizers ASO moved the race to the Mediterranean island in 2010, in part as a precursor to bringing the Tour de France to Corsica for the grand départ in 2013.
The longer climbs of Corsica make it more difficult for Voigt to try to win the elusive sixth crown, but that didn’t stop him from attacking last year. That helped open the door for Leopard teammate Schleck to counter-attack in his wake.
“I made a big attack last year at Critérium,” Voigt said. “It didn’t work, but I would like to think that that attack opened the door for Frankie to win the stage and take the jersey, so it did work out in the end.”
Voigt’s Saxo Bank team skipped the first edition on Corsica in 2010 due to conflicting race schedules and he was shipped off to the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya instead.
Voigt shows no signs of slowing down, revealed by the recent Paris-Nice, where he came within inches of winning a stage coming into Sisteron, where he was pipped at the line by Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank).
Voigt’s eternal optimism remains firmly in place and he hasn’t given up all hope for a record sixth crown despite the return of the grueling Col de l’Ospedale summit finish in Sunday’s finale.
And if he doesn’t win, he will be doing all he can to make sure a teammate does.
“I am not going to give it up,” he said. “In the past several years, there is always the team with that wins. Once with Julich, once with Basso, four times myself and then Schleck last year.
“Always the team I am on, we win the Criterium. We didn’t come for the first year on Corsica, (Pierrick) Fedrigo won, but the years before and after, the team I am on, we always win. Maybe I am the good luck charm!”
81st Critérium International
Saturday, March 24: Stage 1a Porto Vecchio, 89.5km
Saturday, March 24: Stage 1b Porto Vecchio, 6.5km (ITT)
Sunday, March 25: Stage 2 Porto Vecchio to Col de l’Ospedale, 179km