Hard-man hero Jens Voigt on family, drugs, the Tour - and being this year's oldest rider

"Chris Froome will win," says Mr Shut Up Legs

by John Stevenson   June 26, 2013  

Jens Voigt is so tough cameras dare not capture all his colours Image by Flickr user petitbrun

The oldest man in this year’s Tour de France, the inimitable 41-year-old Jens Voigt is also the most popular. In an interview with the BBC he demonstrates why with a typical mix of quips, anecdotes and no-nonsense opinion on cycling and his place in it.

This will be Voigt’s 16th Tour de France and probably his last. With his RadioShack Leopard Trek team leader Andy Schleck not expected to reach the podium even by his own team, Voigt may take one last chance to display the hard-man breakaway riding style that brought him Tour stage wins in 2001 and 2006.

While his age makes him a hero to every MAMIL who follows the Tour, Voigt admits that riding at the top level, even as a breakaway specialist and super-domestique is not getting any easier.

“It is the passion inside me that means I keep going,” he told the BBC. “I love what I do and I think I am lucky to do it. When I am riding a quiet country road, I hear the birds singing and think ‘I am in my office now’.

“I can still do my job and be a valuable team member, but it is getting harder. The winter in Germany was long and hard and cold with ice and rain; I came out of it lacking the training miles I needed to put into my legs for this season.

“But I have a wife and six kids at home in Berlin and I cannot just say ‘hey honey, listen I am going somewhere warm for a month to train, you all stay here where it is minus 10’.

“I am a family man and I have to find my priorities. During the season it is to race, during the off-season it is to spend time with my family.”

Last man standing

Voigt’s career began in earnest with his victory in the Peace Race in 1994. That makes him one of the few riders left in the peloton from what are regarded as cycling’s darkest days of rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Voigt says that he never came under pressure to use drugs even when he was part of the former East Germany’s sports system.

“I was either too young, or not good enough. But there was no dope.”

“I am not an idiot, I know a lot of riders my age have been involved in doping and have been caught,” Voigt told BBC Sport.

“People come to me and say ‘listen Jens, it is hard for us to believe. This rider was as good as you and he has been caught. You are almost the only clean one left’.

“Because of that, it seems logical to them that I have been doping. It is hard to keep defending myself because I don’t seem to be able to prove my innocence. I am just a hard-working guy and, yes, I have talent. Does it really make me suspicious?

“The one thing that stops me from letting that poison my mind are the people that really count - my family and close friends. They know I am clean.

“Cycling has made mistakes in the past but now the quality of controls is so good, it is impossible to use drugs and get away with it. It is never a pleasant moment when someone is caught, but it shows the tests are working and we keep catching the bad riders.

“I believe this year’s Tour will be clean but of course you cannot control every single individual. I try to lead by example and not do any funny stuff. Everything I have won, I earned it.

“I hope I am allowed to say that the reason I am popular is because of the way I am, the way I race and the way I talk. I am just the old-fashioned, reliable guy and people always know I am after one thing: ‘There is Jens. He will go in the breakaway’.”

Jens’ Tour tips

Speaking of the Tour de France, Voigt’s picks for the podium sum up this year’s favourites.

“Froome is going to win, Alberto Contador will finish second and I think Tejay van Garderen will finish third,” he says.

“I might end up looking like a prophet, or I may end up looking like a fool - but that is my podium.

“Chris just looks like Bradley last year, the same things - he is strong, a dominant rider and a solid leader.

“He is good in time-trials and uphill and he is absolutely the man to beat, with a solid team to back him up too. Yes, Bradley is out but [Team Sky domestique] Richie Porte is looking pretty strong and promising.”

29 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Would love to see him in Yorkshire next year, maybe one more year mate Thinking

His predictions are the same as 2 other retired riders.

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2809 posts]
26th June 2013 - 8:47

3 Likes

Did he even blink when talking dope? Come on Jens, you were there in the 90s, pull the other one.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1175 posts]
26th June 2013 - 9:00

2 Likes

I've a sneaking suspicion that like the Lance lovers, I let my heart rule my head so because I want to believe Jens it is easy for me to believe Jens.

What he says backs up even further that belief that he is a rarity, a genuine non-doper from dopings heyday.

But then that voice crops up and says "But isn't that exactly what all the dopers say"?

If he did dope, at least he has had the decency to at least act like he was suffering and struggling too.

Still frigging love the man though and I too would love to see him roll out from Yorkshire next year.

posted by farrell [1520 posts]
26th June 2013 - 9:29

2 Likes

Jens the teflon guy.

One day it will out that Jens was as EPO's the same as them all.

Riding at his age is PED assisted.

Do we think so many would have retired in the mid 30s, the Kellys's, Merckx's, RDV's, if they had access to the vector doping drugs that guys like Horner, Hincapie, Voight had and have.

Not a fan of anyone who dopes and cheats, dont care how much of a 'character' and nice guy they are.

posted by Decster [246 posts]
26th June 2013 - 9:38

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Decster, in all sports you get people who perform at the top of their chosen career well past what most people would describe as their "best before date".

I doesn't mean they are on drugs or cheating, we are human and not machines so everyone is different. You seem to be drugs infatuated looking at some of your previous comments.

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2809 posts]
26th June 2013 - 9:56

2 Likes

Quit with the drugs stuff already. If you can't believe in Jens then why do you even follow cycling? He's the last remaining hero, they don't build them like that any more. Some people earn respect and in my opinion Jens deserves yours and the benefit of the doubt. He's not famous for cheating his way to suspicious and unbelievable victories. He's famous for digging deep, and suffering for the cause. Breakaways, crashes and of course a few catch phrases and children's bikes along the way.

Next person to mention drugs and Jens must sell their bikes immediately and go watch Wimbledon!

posted by YourMum [12 posts]
26th June 2013 - 11:38

4 Likes

Great guy but he raced during an era of PEDs and was mentioned in Tyler Hamilton's book.

posted by Old Cranky [276 posts]
26th June 2013 - 11:48

5 Likes

If he was doping, you not think he would have won more?

@Yourmum, but I don't even like tennis! Smile

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3329 posts]
26th June 2013 - 11:54

4 Likes

stumps wrote:
Decster, in all sports you get people who perform at the top of their chosen career well past what most people would describe as their "best before date".

I doesn't mean they are on drugs or cheating, we are human and not machines so everyone is different. You seem to be drugs infatuated looking at some of your previous comments.

I would agree with you, except that most other sports require a degree of skill which sometimes makes up for a lack of stamina/speed resulting from ageing. Lets all not forget that Dr Fuentes also had many other clients whom did not cycle....my inference being that you can not hold out other sports given that many are so poor at taking blood tests.

I like Jens. He shows heart when he cycles, but I find it incredulous that he went through the naughty nineties without doping. If you read Mr Miller's book it explains just how hard it is to exist without doping, and Jens' career was hardly anonymous. Jens' statement is just the same as all the other dopers. I want to believe him, but he is better off just not saying anything on the subject if he can help it.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1175 posts]
26th June 2013 - 12:42

4 Likes

Decster wrote:
Not a fan of anyone who dopes and cheats, dont care how much of a 'character' and nice guy they are.

posted by northstar [1107 posts]
26th June 2013 - 12:53

3 Likes

We should just go along the 'innocent until proven guilty' lines, surely?

Who are we to judge?

BenMWilliamson's picture

posted by BenMWilliamson [28 posts]
26th June 2013 - 13:01

4 Likes

Quote:
it is impossible to use drugs and get away with it.

uhuh, course it is...

posted by kcr [68 posts]
26th June 2013 - 13:15

6 Likes

@Old Cranky
The mention I remember from Hamilton's book is when he returned after his ban. Hamilton said something along the lines of 'Jens Voight, nicest guy in the peloton. I went up to him to say hi and he just looked at me and pedalled off.' The implication - from someone who should know - was that Voight had no time for Hamilton's PED use and was not happy at his return.

posted by White jazz [9 posts]
26th June 2013 - 13:16

2 Likes

notfastenough wrote:
If he was doping, you not think he would have won more?

No one would denign that Lance was an excellent athlete before he doped, if everyone did it there would still be people at the back of the field. Sadly this is the 'level playing field' argument that pushed clean riders out of the sport completely.



Suffering from Low Cadence.

bikeboy76's picture

posted by bikeboy76 [1350 posts]
26th June 2013 - 13:30

4 Likes

White jazz wrote:
@Old Cranky
The mention I remember from Hamilton's book is when he returned after his ban. Hamilton said something along the lines of 'Jens Voight, nicest guy in the peloton. I went up to him to say hi and he just looked at me and pedalled off.' The implication - from someone who should know - was that Voight had no time for Hamilton's PED use and was not happy at his return.

Actually Hamilton is more ambiguous than that. He basically is making the comment that because he got caught, he was a pariah in the peloton, not because he took PEDs. If you wanted to make a deeper inference, the very fact that he mentions Voigt could be seen that he viewed Voigt as another doper, and so indicating the double standard.

However, they are always careful in these books not to implicate riders who have not been caught doping, otherwise it would easily become libellous. The whole line of 'innocent until proven guilty' was cant for the Lance lovers back in the day. I've never really trucked with that. There is levels of believability, and then there are things which do not make apparent sense, like a 41 year old professional cyclist competing at the top of an elite athletic sport in a period of time that we know more about training and human performance than ever before (i.e. we know how to train an athlete their genetic peak - so why is this old guy preventing a younger stronger rider getting through - could it be the same reason LA was able to blast his way out of retirement, which was I believe, down to steroids).

I think there was a lot of this 'we can't prove Lance cheated and therefore he wasn't' argument, when a lot of cycling history could have been sorted out if people said 'it seems very likely that Pantani is on drugs given the speed he is climbing', and 'given Pantani was on drugs and LA is beating him up a climb, doesn't that warrant further investigation?'

There is much with the psychology of sports which will cause sportsmen to cheat, that desire to win is a slippery slope to cheating (or winning by any means necessary as I'm sure they'll say). Once you know that someone else cheated you, it becomes hard not to follow a similar route if you think that you're better than someone else. Plus, for being the winner are such that it invites a 'win at all cost'. We have created the gladiators of ancient Rome, only the costs to their bodies are felt 10-20 years later, and rarely the mortality of their later day comparison, but even then there are those who have cast their lives away in the process of reaching the top.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1175 posts]
26th June 2013 - 14:57

3 Likes

Your point about Jens keeping a younger, stronger rider out could be to with the benefits and positives of having a character like him in the team. What he lacks in strength, speed or recovery he makes up for in experience, something that many sports teams value greatly.

I'd like to think we can agree that Jens is a very tough fella and tough mentally too, which is an incredible tool for an endurance athlete to have.

posted by farrell [1520 posts]
26th June 2013 - 15:20

4 Likes

You're right, I've just looked at the text. In fact it's quite funny.
He says (having been snubbed):
"I tried not to take it personally. Maybe Jens was just afraid of being associated with me. Maybe I was an unwelcome reminder of what might happen to him if he got popped. Maybe it's just the way the brotherhood works you're in or out. No inbetween. "
It was probably meant personally.
Maybe Hamilton knew something, maybe not. But of the reasons he presents he doesn't seem to have thought that Voight disapproved of his return on moral grounds.
However, I'm not sure your age argument holds up. Ryan Giggs is playing in the Premier League at 39. Voight's performance on the Tour de Suisse perhaps reflects the impact of age. Caught after a long breakaway. The poster above points out that cycling is a team sport a people bring different qualities to the team.
I'm not really arguing that Voight is either using or not using PEDs.
Whatl I'm saying is that winning races or having a long career are not in themselves suspicious.

posted by White jazz [9 posts]
26th June 2013 - 15:43

4 Likes

This seems a little premature to speculate and basically accuse based on f**k all evidence other than the fact that other people were doing it and he was in the peloton at the time.
@Colin Peyresourde He keeps mentioning it because he keeps getting asked about it - keeping quiet would make him look guilty, but then by your logic answering makes him look guilty? Do you just really want him to be guilty so you can point and shout 'Told you! Told you!' otherwise what is he to do. I hope Jens never doped, he says he didn't and frankly, I believe him. The way i see it, he is a phenominal athlete, with huge mental reserves and capability to suffer and hurt beyond what other people will do. He could (and i hope did) use that to his advantage and do what he does clean, had he doped, with his capacity for pain and suffering then i think he would have won much more. The fact he didn't makes me think that he hasn't. But then, unless and until it is proven that he did cheat there will be the speculation and none of us will have any actual idea beyond comspiracy and cynicism. It's a shame really

posted by md6 [156 posts]
26th June 2013 - 15:51

3 Likes

I just don't want to think about it.

Ride more, ride better

posted by Sniffer [134 posts]
26th June 2013 - 16:07

0 Likes

Yeah Voight could beat the dopers when LeMond and Fignon couldn't when EPO came along.

Voight raced through the EPO era from 1994 till today.

If he did that clean then Unicorns exist.

Jens rode for Credit Agricole where Jonathan Vaughters talked about doping on the team.

He rode for Bjarne Riis, that bastion of anti doping.

He then joined another bastion of clean riding Bruyneel.

He presently rides for Kim Andersen, who had no less than 7 positive tests in his career!.

Yeah Jens never doped. Pull the other one Jensie.

Nice guys dont dope, just ask Millar, Hamilton, Landis, Jalabert, Merckx.

Amazing how people still think the doping was only done by a minority.

posted by Decster [246 posts]
26th June 2013 - 16:24

3 Likes

I should add I have respect for these athletes, but they make a deal with the devil when becoming a top athlete. One suspects, and this suspicion is at least back up by Miller's book, but that young athletes need to cajoled into taking the PEDs and understanding the 'truth' about professional sports.

In Miller's case he was slowly pushed towards them, and in the end he had to decide to I take them and win, or do I turn my back on the sport I love. I think that is a really hard place to be in, and subtle and seductive (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). It is probably also why teams prefer veterans. They know the costs and they know the way the game is played. No need to invest time and energy on a cyclist that won't turn to the dark side.

To that end steroids are a boon. It really keeps your strength and power and enables you to ride like a young man. Even at sportives I think I have seen MAMILS juiced up, there's certainly evidence of it from the amateur and professional circuits in the US and Italy.

There's a real problem bringing in the likes of Ryan Giggs. What we have seen in recent years is that football players have prolonged their careers. I don't think you can say that PEDs are being used in football either. We do know that testing is less serious in many other sports (in fact cycling is actually at the forefront of anti-doping), and fewer blood tests done. As mentioned Dr Fuentes has made claims about having soccer clients, and given that the top European teams have all had their day at the CL Final I doubt that whatever Fuentes was giving to his Spanish clients has not made it's way to the English game. Anecdotal evidence suggests so - Jaap Stam played for United AND was found guilty of taking PEDs (not at the same time though). Rio Ferdinand's whereabouts charge which banned him, Fabrice Muamba's heart attack (on a pro player, who must have plenty of fitness checks and should be in good health), the increase in player performance (speed and distance covered)

.....if you also want to look at it another way Dutch teams dominated the early nineties, at a time when EPO was prominent in Dutch cycling. AC Milan destroyed Barcelona in 1994 when AC Milan claimed they had done 'altitdue climbing'. Meanwhile all the English teams struggled. Arsenal's influx of foreign players (a number of dutch players too) helped them dominate the English leagues, running rings around professional players. Meanwhile Spanish players have been dropping dead from heart attacks that the owner of Real Sociedad (or maybe another team) has claimed that his time was doping before he took them over. Not all of this is for certain, but there is a strong suspicion because the evidence is there. The worst of it all is the 'new training techniques' which have:

a) helped me become quicker
b) meant I don't have to train as hard
c) meant I made the step up

There are no magic routines out there, because you'd already be doing them.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1175 posts]
26th June 2013 - 16:31

3 Likes

md6 wrote:
This seems a little premature to speculate and basically accuse based on f**k all evidence other than the fact that other people were doing it and he was in the peloton at the time.
@Colin Peyresourde He keeps mentioning it because he keeps getting asked about it - keeping quiet would make him look guilty, but then by your logic answering makes him look guilty? Do you just really want him to be guilty so you can point and shout 'Told you! Told you!' otherwise what is he to do. I hope Jens never doped, he says he didn't and frankly, I believe him. The way i see it, he is a phenominal athlete, with huge mental reserves and capability to suffer and hurt beyond what other people will do. He could (and i hope did) use that to his advantage and do what he does clean, had he doped, with his capacity for pain and suffering then i think he would have won much more. The fact he didn't makes me think that he hasn't. But then, unless and until it is proven that he did cheat there will be the speculation and none of us will have any actual idea beyond comspiracy and cynicism. It's a shame really

No, I don't. But equally, I don't think we should be taking him at his word when there's a lot of evidence to suggest otherwise. If there is two things we know is that 1)absence of positive test for drugs does not mean that they weren't taken 2) all dopers deny doping, so a denial means nothing.

I just think I have my eyes open on this, but it does put me in an awkward position. I like the sport, I hate what Lance did (I hated Pantani too, except when he looked like destroying Lance), I think doping is rife in cycling and other sports (check out 'tennishasaproblemwithsteroids.com'), but I enjoy sport. I enjoy it most when it appears that people are not doping up to their eyeballs - if a cyclist looks invulnerable (or any other athlete) it probably means that he's not leaving anything to chance i.e. taking what he needs to win. It puts me in a philosophical quandary, but one that I'm happy to handle, because I think we are better off trying to worm out the cheats than accepting it. I think we are better off if we at least being aware and not trying to bury our heads in the sand, as this will only perpetuate affairs (which is what happened with Lance). We all sort of allow this to happen when we make heroes out of these cheats.

But equally I can admire the struggle and the work effort, as even the cheats have to work for their wins. It's just tempered by a knowledge that they have created an artificial playing field which means that riders no longer seem to struggle with their performance at the end of a 3 week tour like science says they should....

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1175 posts]
26th June 2013 - 16:47

3 Likes

Colin,

Fabrice Muamba has a congenital heart condition. There is nothing to suggest that his collapse had anything to do with PEDs. That's not to say that football is clean, it may not be.

Ah! Condor

posted by Bedfordshire Clanger [321 posts]
26th June 2013 - 18:44

3 Likes

Lots of varied posts here... All I can think of at the moment, having read all the posts, is just look at the total, utter mess McQuaid and is honorary sidekick have made of cycling. Everybody is talking about PEDs, questioning and doubting the words of the riders (me included). The UCI leadership have destroyed trust in the sport by allegedly turning a blind eye to doping and covering up positives. If it wasn't for the total mismanagement of cycling would we be talking about Jens in this context? Probably not. If he took PEDs then the UCI failed him. If he didn't, then the UCI failed him. Cookson has a lot of work to do if he can negotiate through the McQuaid political mine field.

posted by fatty [74 posts]
26th June 2013 - 19:17

2 Likes

i would argue that jens is clean because he has said so openly, most riders don't actually lie they just don't answer the question. I would want to see the whole interview, who raised the question to be certain though.

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1180 posts]
26th June 2013 - 19:31

1 Like

posted by farrell [1520 posts]
26th June 2013 - 19:55

1 Like

Christ if I had six kids I'd need to take shed loads of drugs to cope Devil

Pastaman

posted by pastaman [220 posts]
26th June 2013 - 22:36

2 Likes

BenMWilliamson wrote:
We should just go along the 'innocent until proven guilty' lines, surely?

Who are we to judge?

Couldnt agree more.

posted by gareth2510 [139 posts]
27th June 2013 - 8:46

0 Likes

@ Colin Peyresourde:
That is kind of my point there is no actual evidence of Jens doping, other than speculation, heresay and cynicism. Has anyone accused him ditrectly in the way Lance was accused? I'm not aware of it (doesn't mean it hasn't happened) which makes me think that its more likely speculation than someone in the know.
I accept lots of riders were doping, probably most. Comparing to Millar, who was winning races - i.e. World TT champion clean according to his book before he decided to dope. Jens never was that successful, hence my point if he doped he would've won more. I agree all dopers deny, but then so would any clean rider. Your argument is a damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. He can't deny because all dopers deny. Its a bit like making the statement 'I am a lair' if its not true then i'm a liar, which makes it true, but if its true i'm not a lair and therefore can't be true.
I agree that cycling must be cleaned up and get any cheats out - personally i think that if an althete is caught a 2nd time then a lifetime ban for them and massive fines for the teams involved should be introduced. Make the teams more responsible and punishable then that may help. I guess I agree with you, but also disagree. Maybe that is more heart than head on my point or maybe i'm just less cynical and believe in people.
Jens definately doesn't look invulnerable to me, again, he would win/won more if he did.

posted by md6 [156 posts]
27th June 2013 - 9:48

2 Likes