BELLEGARDE-SUR-VALSERINE, France (VN) — In a Tour de France dominated by the youngest riders, it was nice to see the ‘old’ German go at it yesterday. Jens Voigt, the oldest rider in the race at 40 years old, escaped, lost ground, regained and then just missed the stage win. Along the way, he won the fans’ hearts.
Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan) said of his effort, “It’s good that you can prove to yourself that your body still functions and you’re still there.”
He crossed the line in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine in third place and was greeted as if he had won the 11th leg. Fans embraced his effort, knowing that it was going to be one of the last times that they would see him on the attack in the Tour.
After racing professionally since 1997, including 15 Tours, Voigt will retire this year. He counts two Tour stage victories in his palmarès and two days in the race leader’s yellow jersey. He failed to win this time around, but he showed he still has it.
“You proved to yourself that it was not just luck you received the Tour de France selection, that you actually deserved the place, that you’re still a good team member and that you can still do the job that your teammates expect and hope,” he said.
Journalists and TV camera operators rushed to the RadioShack team bus after Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) blew a kiss at the line. They crowded the area around the back door where Jens waited. Fränk Schleck and Andreas Klöden – riders with equal or bigger wins in their palmarès – entered the bus unnoticed by the crowd around Voigt.
The same fight that he showed yesterday earned Voigt his name. He attacked and time trialed his way though his early years, switching to a super domestique role when he first teamed up the Schleck brothers, Andy and Fränk, at CSC.
RadioShack selected him for its Tour team this year to support Schleck, Chris Horner and its current top GC men, Maxime Monfort and Haimar Zubeldia. It also selected him to go out on the attack, like he did to win in Montélimar in 2006 and like he did yesterday.
He was part of a 25-man move early in the 194.5km stage through the Alps. The move whittled itself down on the race’s first big climb, the Col du Grand Colombier.
The Colombier rolls on for 17.4km and reaches 1501 metres. Near the top, there were only four riders left, including known climbers Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) and Voeckler. Voigt crossed the pass in another group a minute behind. He still faced a second, smaller climb, but he was suffering.
“In theory, [your DS] sits the team car with air conditioning, you probably come up with this idea that your rider shouldn’t lose more time, but I swear I was just in survival mode,” Voigt said. “I could hardly focus on the wheel in front of me. I was just in a tunnel of pain.”
Voigt pursued the lead four and turned the race around for himself. He joined them at 8.7km from the line and attacked immediately afterwards. The others caught him, but he went again, this time in pursuit of Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), around 12 years younger.
Voeckler nullified the pursuit and passed them both, but failed to crush Voigt’s eternal youthfulness that fans love.
He said with a laugh that today will be a day of rest and that he will hide in the group. “I’m just going to go into survival mode,” he said. “I will listen to my tired, poor old body screaming at me, ‘Stop!’”