Have self-belief beyond reason, do not let negative naysayers talk to down: legendary cyclist Jens Voigt
Legendary German cyclist Jens Voigt recently visited India to launch the 'Trek Ride Camp' -- an event which has the idea to enable riders to connect with industry experts, share opinions with each other, and also try out some of the high-end Trek bicycles.
Tour de France (in 2001, 2006) and Giro d'Italia (in 2008) are some of Jens' Grand Tours wins. Tour de Pologne (2008), Critérium International (1999, 2004, 2007–2009), Deutschland Tour (2006, 2007), Bayern-Rundfahrt (2000, 2001), and Tour Méditerranéen (2005) are some of the stage races the 41-year-old has won.
Here are the excerpts from the interview with Jens Voigt on the sidelines of the launch event:
Q. What are your favourite moments of your entire cycling journey so far? Which year was your favourite Tour de France?
Jens: After 33 years of cycling, 18 years as a professional -- it would be unfair to pick just one moment over the others. I had a lot of good moments and bad moments both. Still, if I really have to pin down one good moment -- it would be the Paris–Nice in 2005. Paris-Nice is a one-week stage race which starts on a Sunday in Paris and finishes the next Sunday down south in Nice. We had a really close friend and teammate of mine -- Bobby Julich -- in the leader's jersey and knew a pretty tough last day awaits us.
There were still 30 km to go with nobody else left but Bobby and myself. The whole team was gone and we had to work hard that day. I looked at Bobby and I felt that Bobby is a really good friend of mine and has sacrificed to help me on innumerable occasions to enable me to achieve a result. I figured that we got to make it work somehow. It was one of the best days in my career as I rode like a whole team. I did all the jobs that the other boys did before -- all by myself -- and we managed to save the day with my friend Bobby ending up winning the race.
Bobby's wife and his daughter were standing in the audience when Bobby was handed the leader's jersey at the podium. I was standing next to him and felt a little bit of this is my work -- seeing his wife and daughter so happy, almost crying in joy because daddy won a race in the same city where they lived. That was the proudest and most rewarding moment for me. Later Bobby came up to me and said, 'You know Jens, I think you could have actually ridden away yourself to take the stage with the leader's jersey.' What made it so special for me is doing something for my friend.
Q. Besides yourself, who would you credit for helping you win so many accolades in your career?
Jens: Even despite the fact that cycling is an individual sport and you have to sit on the bike alone -- you would be nothing without a team. It is your team that helps you win races. The better the team spirit is, the more you help each other, and the more successful the team becomes. A good team is the key to success and a happy career.
Q. What impact do you think technology has had on modern cycling?
Jens: I have seen a mammoth change in the kind of technology available. I remember my first bike being a steel bike which weighed 10-11 kilograms. Now I have a full carbon bike which weighs between 5-6 kilograms. Hence, the reduction in weight due to advanced materials is the most prominent.
The index shifting invented by Shimano -- about 15-20 years ago -- was another big change. Especially the usage of carbon components have made bikes faster, stiffer, more efficient with more ergonomics. The reason why the average speed of racers still goes faster, it is not necessary that all the riders get better or stronger, a large chunk has to be credited to these technological advancements as well.
Right from the helmet to the jersey to the bike -- everything is more ergonomic and lighter. With the same power output, a rider can go much faster today than he would have, say 15 years ago, because the equipment is so much better. Clearly the bikes today are a lot better than they have been in the years before.
Q. Share your accident experience during 2010 Tour De France.
Jens: During 2009 Tour De France, I had such a bad crash that I had to be flown in the helicopter to the hospital. The speakers announced on Live German TV that the chances for Mr. Voigt proceeding next morning would be 50-50. My children asked my wife, 'Mom, is daddy going to die?'
I was completely off the bike for 12 weeks after that crash. It took me a while to come back from that. Fortunately, I am still here and all is good.
The tricky part in the 2010 Tour De France was that when I crashed, my bike was broken into a million pieces and I needed a bike to keep going as I was physically okay. I actually did rent a spectators bike -- a little yellow bike from one of the children. I did roughly 30 km on that kid's bike, major of it downhill and some of it in the valley.
My team realized that I need a new bike so they dropped off a spare bike with one of the policeman who was in the organizing the traffic at the Tour De France. When I approached the intersection to start the next climb, I saw that policeman and he told me, 'Hey! I got you a new bike.' So I dropped the yellow bike with the policeman and took the spare bike from him.
I was just so determined to not stop and give up again because the previous year I had to stop the Tour because of the crash. In 2010, I told myself there is no way I am going to give up. So it just popped my mind and asked one of the spectators if I can have his children's bike. It all turned out good. I managed to stay in the time limit and finished that Stage. I was happy I finished the Tour De France that year.
Q. What are the 3 tips that you will like to give any budding cyclist?
Jens: First and foremost, have self-belief beyond reason. Do not let negative naysayers talk to down. You are unique, you are great, you are special, and if you hang on to your dream, it will happen for you.
There are no shortcuts. Cycling is not a game sport like ping pong. You got to have some talent -- yes -- but it is also about your work ethics. You need to be willing and able to spend time on the bike, do the miles and do the hours. You can not expect to do one hour of training to become a world-class performance. You have to train a lot. My average on the bike was roughly 35000 km per year, out of which around 15000 km were racing and 20000 km were preparing and training for the coming season.
The three W's -- Always remember Where you are coming from. Always remember Who are your real friends. Once you become a world champion, there will be a million people who will tap you on the back, but those people who helped you when you were a 10-14-year-old child -- these are the people that stuck with you when you were not famous. There are your real friends, hang on to them.
The third W -- Never forget What made you famous/successful.
If you follow these three W's then you will walk a pretty straight path in life and you will be good, it will keep you successful.
Q. How did it feel to hold the World Hour record?
Jens: I was delighted to say the least -- that I had the chance to finish my career by attacking and taking the World record. It was a special, unique way to achieve that record as there are some really big and important names in that list -- such as Eddy Merckx and Miguel Induráin. I was more than happy to have that record as it was also a really nice way to say goodbye to cycling.
Q. What are you doing currently?
Jens: My main job is for Trek bicycles. I travel the world with them. I was in the US two weeks back, today I am in India, and towards the end of the year, I have to fly to Australia.
I am also a part of developing Trek's new products and testing their prototypes - Helmets, shoes, or bicycles. In my official role as a global brand ambassador, I go and visit bike shops, attend bike shows and events all over the world. I went to Brazil, to Mexico, all over Europe -- so it does involve a lot of travelling.
I also work for 'The Tour down under' in Australia. I work for the NBC during the Tour De France as a commentator. I work for Fitbit watches. I even have a little clothes company which sells 'shut up legs' brand shirts and hoodies. Every year I also participate in the 'Tour de Cure' in April -- a cancer charity event in Australia. This event has grown really close to my heart as you experience so many heartwarming and heartbreaking stories -- people losing family members to cancer, people making miraculous comebacks from cancer. You meet people that tell you, 'Hey, you know 10 years ago they gave me 6 more months and I am still here.' It is a really touching event.
Q. What is the favourite team you were ever part of and why? Where did you have the most fun -- Crédit Agricole, Team CSC or Trek?
Jens: I only have been a part of three teams during my entire career. I spent six years at the French team Credit Agricole and it was a great team to start my career with. This team was all about tradition and you would always know where you are and what to expect. There would be no surprises -- bad or good.
I then spent seven years at a Danish team -- Team CSC. There I had the best years of my career. Innovation was the big word here. You had to make decisions for yourself and there were a lot of surprises. They treated you as grown-up people and left you in charge of your decisions. They said -- We trust you to do what you need to do and give you the freedom to do it in a way that you want. We were most successful and most wins there. We won the Tour De France in 2008 with Carlos Astra. We really had a lot of great moments. For three years we had the best team and felt like the kings in the world.
Finally, for five years, I was a part of Trek–Segafredo, an American team. This also came at the correct timeframe in my career as they gave me a chance to do more events in the US, and connect better with my US fans. I believe that from all the countries in the world, I am the most popular in the US and have the most fans there. Hence, Trek–Segafredo came in at a right moment and it was a really good team.
Q. What do you think should be done to curb doping in cycling specifically and sports in general?
Jens: I do think we work hard on it as we have these international anti-doping agencies -- which constantly work hard on improving the tests. Having a two-year ban on getting your first positive test is a pretty harsh punishment and in many cases, it means the end of a career. Hence, I think the cycling community is going well if we look at doping.
Making any sport cleaner or better is a constant battle -- and in all honesty, I do not think it will ever be finished. I would love the idea that everyone pays their taxes to the last dollar or to the last rupee -- but can anyone guarantee that everybody pays their taxes? We can just hope that everybody is smart enough to do it but we can not guarantee it for anybody. I don't know if everyone pays their taxes in the way it should be done. So, in doping, you will always have some people who believe they are smarter than others and can take a shortcut to become more successful and earn more money in an unfair way.
Having said that, the current situation is such that we are on top of the game and the doping problem is under control.
Q. How many of your children are thinking of going pro?
Jens: None of my six children! My eldest son comes more after my wife so he does not like endurance sports and plays lacrosse -- a team sport.
My second son, Julian, did cycle for almost 5 years. He started when he was 11 and he gave me this magic moment when -- just like me -- he trained for three weeks, entered his first race and won it. This is exactly what I had done 30 years ago. It was a beautiful Sunday morning in October -- all the leaves were turning orange, red, and yellow. At first, I thought my son finished 4th or 5th but it is later that we realized that there were 3 age groups which had started the race together and he was first in his age group. We only knew this during the prize ceremony and it was a magic moment for me -- to see the whole circle of life closing. One fine day, after five years he said that 'I like the sport but I do not want to be going to race all weekend.' So he just stopped.
We have four girls and they like horse riding, hockey, hip-hop dancing, playing music -- but there is no future cyclist in my family.
Q. What is one thing which you miss about cycling?
Jens: Firstly, I miss superior fitness and secondly I miss waking up early morning and feeling like -- 'I can conquer the world. I am ready, I can win, I am unbeatable today, nothing can go wrong. I got this.' I miss that feeling and also miss the camaraderie with the boys of my cycling teams -- winning together, losing together, laughing together, and crying together. There were some years I would spend as much time with my teammates than I did with my wife and my children. So we know everything about each other and had a very close, trustful relationship.
Q. Are you enjoying your retirement days?
Jens: Absolutely -- I enjoy my retirement days. Imagine, I punch you as hard as I can in the face and the next morning I ask you did you miss it? Of course no -- it was so painful. Hence, I do not miss the risk of crashing, the suffering, the sacrifices, the hard training, eating really healthy and drinking only water. So I am happy where I am now.
However, saying that -- If I were to go back 30 years ago, I would still do exactly the same things all over again. There is a time for everything and now I am at a new part of my life -- perfectly happy.
Q. Who are your favourite riders of the current generation and as well as of your time?
Jens: I think I am one of the biggest fans of Peter Sagan -- a three-time world champion and a total superstar. Plus he is a really nice guy. I also like Geraint Thomas a lot.
During my time, I liked to race with Tom Boonen. He was a good rider to be in a race with.
When I was a child, I had a poster of Sean Kelly -- the Irish rider -- on my wall. Sean was just as hard as nails -- indestructible, reliable, and he never complained. He raced as well as he can in the sun, in the rain, in the first race of the season. Winning two World Cups in simultaneous years proves how he was so solid that it was just unbelievable.