ANNENCY-SEMNOZ, France (VN) – On Sunday, on the lower slopes of Mont Revard, the 16-kilometer, 5.6 percent, penultimate climb of Saturday’s stage to Annecy-Semnoz, a certain era of the Tour de France ended.
It was not, on the whole, a major milestone; not a change of Tour director, the death of a rider, the final defeat of a former champion. But for cycling fans, it will nevertheless create a palpable absence: This spot on the Revard marked the last Tour de France attack of Jens Voigt.
He did not win. The RadioShack-Nissan rider was swept up low on the slopes of the final climb, the hors-categorie Annecy-Semnoz, by a GC group bent on dividing the spoils remaining after Chris Froome’s rampage through the 100th Tour. But winning has never been the sole focus of a Jens Voigt attack. And this was very much a Jens Voigt attack.
It was all so familiar. The steady upper body movement, not the ragged wobble of fatigue but the metronomic rocking of pure seated power. Standing on the switchbacks, no change in rhythm. Mouth open. Sunglasses perched high on that impressive nose. Alone.
It was also, as his attacks tend to be, ambitious. They would be called over-ambitious if it were anyone else. But this was Jens.
“Basically, really, I knew I didn’t have a chance. But hey, did that ever stop me? Of course not,” Voigt told reporters after collecting his combativity prize for the day, one that might be less of a daily prize and more of a career achievement award. “I said, ‘Hey, I’m Jens Voigt. I’ll give it a go and give them a run for their money.’”
Voigt, now 41 years old, has spent 17 years in the professional peloton, but plans to call it quits after this season. During that time, he has won two Tour stages, the first in 2001 in Sarran, the second in 2006 at Montélimar. Ever the all-rounder, he has also racked up GC wins in five Criteriums International, the Tour of Germany, and the Tour of Poland.
But the Tour has always inspired some of Voigt’s most daring escapades. And while other men have ridden more Tours, few have made such an impact so late in their careers.
“I just wanted to finish the Tour de France on a good note. I don’t want to finish the Tour like a beat-up old man and people say ‘Ja, ja, ja, that’s Jens, he was a former good rider.” Voigt said. “No, I just wanted to finish on top of things and say, ‘Hey, look, I’m still here and I still have something left in me.”
He said so by bridging to Pierre Rolland’s from-the-gun attack in Annecy, a move that would grow to 10 men before settling in as the break of the day. Movistar kept it on a short leash, looking to preserve a shot at the double KOM points on offer at the Semnoz summit finish in a bid to add a polka-dot jersey to Nairo Quintana’s white. But when they brought the group back to 45 seconds there on the slopes of the Revard, Voigt made his move.
“It’s almost for sure my last Tour, so I wanted to say goodbye in a special way. I gave everything. I’m happy. It’s almost done for me. I’ve had some great Tour memories. I’ve been on the podium with Andy Schleck and Carlos Sastre. I’m at peace with the Tour.”
Jens Voigt, however, is a man who likes to say never. Asked by reporters if he might see the front on the Champs-Élysées tomorrow, the German just laughed.
“Well, well. The Tour isn’t over! Everything is possible!”