Oh to dream!
In watching the stage 4 finish on Mont Ventoux of Paris-Nice, le grimpeur could not help but wonder how many other viewers were quietly wishing the impossible, that Jens Voigt would hold off all the chasing climbers and take a well-deserved mountain stage win.
Voigt had his characteristic grimace on full display, and after attacking the breakaway group at the bottom of the climb to the north slopes of the mountain, officially Mont Serein, had around 3.5 minutes of lead time over the peloton.
“When I attacked the group at the foot of the climb, I believed I could make it,” he told CyclingNews. “I only lost 30 seconds in the first five kilometres of the ascent. So I told myself I could possibly do it, just looking at it mathematically.”
He was riding strongly, but hardly the perfect example of climbing souplesse – driving the pedals, hands on the hoods; time-trialling the climb. He still had 2 minutes with 6 kilometres to go, but the gap kept coming down, driven by Quick Step as well as KOM jersey wearer Clément L’Hottelerie.
But the damage was done by Lotto teammates Popovych and Evans, and young climbing sensation Robert Gesink. Finally, Voigt gave up his escape just past the 4 kilometre banner, his face a picture of pain, but was still able to work briefly for Frank Schleck in his short-lived battle with Gesink, Popovych, and Evans. Voigt stayed competitive for the rest of the stage, but at the end 14 riders had come past him and he was 1’47” down on stage winner Evans.
“I just couldn’t resist anymore, and the guys behind put down the hammer for the finale,” Voigt said. “If the GC riders had waited a bit longer for their final moves I could have made it.”
What a marvellous victory it would have been!
In many ways, Voigt is the complete rider, refusing to be easily categorized. He is of course known for his attacking style and endurance in long breakaways, the classic rouleur. Yet his palmares show results, such as two wins in the multi-stage Deutschland Tour, that suggest a more rounded skill-set on the bike.
And is it too premature to dismiss his climbing skills?
In 2005, at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco through the Basque country in April, he successfully held off the peloton to win stage 5 to the monastery at Arantzazu. The final 8 kilometre climb featured sections over 10%.
The year before he had won stage 5 as well, on a rolling climbing stage with four cat.3s and one cat.2 ascents. In winning, he held off David Etxebarria, Denis Menchov, and Iban Mayo on the final climb – three capable mountain men. That year he also won the KOM classification ahead of Unai Etxebarria.
And who can forget his tenacious climbing performance – and sportsmanship – in stage 19 of the Giro in 2006, with 4,000 metres of climbing over four mountains. Voigt stayed with all the mountain men but refused to contest the sprint after sitting on the wheel of Juan Manuel Garate on the final ascent.
“I always like to win, but if I don’t work, I don’t win,” he was reported saying. “That’s just not me. I cannot win like that.”
There may be a true grimpeur lurking inside Voigt yet. In the twilight of his career – he turned professional in 1997 and secured his first big ride with Gan in 1998 – and with the sponsorship future of his team uncertain, who knows what Voigt is capable of in the rest of the season.
Voigt represents talent and tenacity, a willingness to work hard for his team or for himself to get results, and a true sporting ethic.
As well as Mont Ventoux this year, he showed all those qualities on Alpe d’Huez in 2006 – where the Tour will again visit this year. Oh to dream, indeed!