NASHVILLE, Tennessee (VN) — Jens Voigt is used to the spotlight, but admits that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s ongoing investigation of RadioShack-Nissan general manager Johan Bruyneel has created unnecessary distractions for the team.
Voigt, who learned of Bruyneel’s voluntary separation from the squad on Friday while visiting Nashville, Tennessee, described the embattled Belgian’s departure as “the right decision” for all involved.
“I got the news probably at the same time you did, but I’ve read the statements and it seems it was Johan’s decision to say ‘I want to separate myself from the team so they have the chance to start next season without distractions or interferences and concentrate on my defense.’ We’ve got to respect his decision and just keep concentrating on getting ready for next season,” he said.
The team’s management group, Leopard SA, announced Friday that Bruyneel — who is awaiting arbitration on charges brought in connection with his leadership of the now-disgraced U.S. Postal dynasty — would be immediately departing “to ensure the serenity and cohesiveness within the team.”
Voigt, whose short-lived association with Bruyneel stems from the 2011 merger of RadioShack and the former Leopard-Trek squad, described the change as just another in a long series of transitions for the original team.
“We’ve already seen a few changes,” he said. “We went to create Team Luxembourg and Team Leopard, and then we had this merger. So now we’ll have a new boss.
“Johan took this decision to give us a chance to do our jobs and make our paths a little more easy — or a little more straight — so, I think it was the right decision. We’ll have a little more time to focus on doing our jobs, riding our bikes and trying to win as many races as possible.”
The popular German rider has been unequivocal in his own doping denials. Responding to the question on Twitter Thursday, Voigt responded succinctly:
“You ask if I doped? Ok here is the answer. No I did not dope in the past, I don’t do it now and not planning to in the future.”
Asked to respond to Levi Leipheimer’s confession in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, in which he described cycling as “a sport where the athletes at the highest level — perhaps without exception— used banned substances,” Voigt took clear exception.
“If that’s what (he said), then it would be not correct,” Voigt said. “Or maybe I was not a top-level athlete then? Because, you know, I didn’t. So he probably shouldn’t say it that way. You’d say ‘Okay, most of the people” or “everybody I know did this’ but you can’t just say ‘everybody’ like that, you know?
“Sometimes it may be easier to go, ‘Okay, everybody else did it, so I had to do it.’ But you don’t treat everyone the same and throw everybody into the same bucket. I mean if you are upset, be that way toward yourself, but not presuming everybody else to be guilty for what you did.”
Voigt is in Nashville to participate in Saturday’s 840 Gran Fondo, roughly 17 miles of which will be held on the newly paved tarmac of an interstate extension set to open to motor vehicles in the coming weeks. The trip was also an opportunity for Voigt to visit the North American headquarters of Nissan, one of his team’s title sponsors. The rider spent Friday visiting with employees and marveling at the plant’s technology.
“It was really eye-opening to see how much brainpower and how much thinking goes into producing one car,” he said. “It’s a beautiful facility and we got to meet some of the employees and have a little question-and-answer session, so it was a pretty nice afternoon for us.”
Nissan spokesman Jay Schaffer says that the plant’s employees were keen to meet “The Jensie.”
“He’s got a reputation that transcends the sport of cycling. Everything about Jens is a lot of fun and inspiring to people,” he said.
If those people have their say, 2013 won’t be the last they see of Voigt. The 41-year-old rider had toyed with making 2012 his final season, but agreed to continue on for at least another year. Will he extend beyond that?
“Honestly, it’s way to early to think about that,” Voigt said with a laugh. “I need to start a season first, before I can talk about another one. I’ll take it step by step.
“You know, I hate to say it, but I’m not getting younger. Then again, I said already the same thing going into this season, so you never know.”