A training ride in yellow?

In Stage 9 yesterday, Jens Voigt (CSC) took the treasured maillot jaune away from Lance Armstrong...

An interview with Jens Voigt, July 11, 2005

A training ride in yellow?

In Stage 9 yesterday, Jens Voigt (CSC) took the treasured maillot jaune away from Lance Armstrong and the Discovery Channel team, after two days of relentless attacking in the Vosges mountains. Voigt finished third in the stage behind Michael Rasmussen and Christophe Moreau, but had more than enough time in hand at the finish to take the overall lead. As Hedwig Kröner reports, he doesn't expect to have it for long, but he is more than happy to wear it.

Picture German Jens Voigt, a tall, lean and focused adult, grinning like a school boy: that's the image the enthusiastic crowd in front of the podium in Mulhouse took home from their Tour de France experience. The 33 year-old offered himself the maillot jaune on what was, according to him, the last day this would have been possible at this year's Tour. Voigt was very happy about this achievement, for which the otherwise relentless character had to hold his horses and actually show some patience.

"I'm very happy that I succeeded, because some people were starting to question me - and now I've shown that the old wolf still has teeth...," he said after the stage. "This morning in the team bus Bjarne allowed me to attack, and I was really pleased with that decision because I had asked him every morning: ' Can I go?' and Bjarne said: 'No.', and then again: 'Can I go?' - Bjarne: 'No.', and again... That went on for a week. And today finally, he set me free to do what I wanted to do and that worked out perfect!"

"... You just gotta be hard-headed enough ..."

In his own special way of explaining himself - honest, straightforward and funny - the father of four commented on his breakaway. "I tried to break away yesterday already and the team that wanted - or should have - chased me noticed that it cost them a lot of energy. And today they knew that it would again cost the whole team if they would have went for me, so they probably told themselves 'what the heck, if he really wants that jersey then let him get it'... You just gotta be hard-headed enough - I've said it before: you have to keep on pummeling luck, until it gets on your side." It did, in the end, although Voigt wasn't sure of succeeding, and very impressed with stage winner Rasmussen's performance.

"When we were still a bigger breakaway group, Rasmussen put time on us slowly but steadily, so I didn't really believe that we could catch him," Voigt continued. "On the climb, he was faster than Moreau and me. He must have had the best day of his life, as I thought that we would make up some time on him on the flat, but we didn't..."

The obsessive attacker from the former East-German town of Grevesmühlen has come a long way since he started out as a neo-pro for the Australian/Czech squad ZVVZ-Giant in 1997. He moved on to French team Gan in the next season, which later became Crédit Agricole, where he stayed until 2003. This proved to be another decisive factor on his quest for the yellow.

"Christophe Moreau was a very strong partner today, he rode the whole Ballon d'Alsace in front. It was really fair of him to have waited when I had to change my rear wheel, I really must thank him and my former directeur sportif for that. If he wouldn't have waited, my bad luck would have been unbearable. I was giving it all I had, I was riding full speed and Rasmussen in front had four minutes, I heard that Cofidis was riding behind and then something like that happens... That really shakes you up!", Voigt said.

The man who now lives in Berlin is sure to enjoy his time with the yellow jersey, which he wore once before, in 2001. Asked how he would spend his precious time with it, the CSC rider replied, "Tomorrow, I will go for a training ride with it! No, I don't mean that... The stage after the rest day isn't the easiest one so the question is whether I will be able to defend it there. I will enjoy the moments of having it - it's a great feeling, just perfect - and then I'll see what will come up next."

Once the Tour gets into the high mountains, Voigt knows that his chanced for defending it are slim. But the plan for his team is already set: "I'm a good rider, you know, but I'm just not made for the high mountains. Guess you can't have it all. For the stage to Courchevel, we have other riders to take over. They will be ready there. I've done my job and it was the very last chance to get this jersey. Now I hope that one of my teammates takes the jersey off me!" Meaning of course Ivan Basso, the CSC leader, but with four riders in the top ten, the Danish squad under the watchful eye of tactician Bjarne Riis may play various cards. As for Voigt, he will enjoy his rest day today, although the bad news of David Zabriskie's abandon somewhat tainted his spirit.

"He had a really hard day yesterday, he did 120 km of 220 by himself, so he lost a lot of energy with that," Voigt said, visibly upset. "I guess after that really bad and painful crash, he never had the time to recover. And the Tour just gets harder and harder now. And after a fast start like today with those climbs he must have been by himself again... But he gave us the most perfect start we could possibly have into the race with the stage win and the yellow jersey. So whatever he does, he's still my hero! Beating Lance Armstrong in a Tour time trial, that doesn't happen every day - so I just hope he gets better soon and can come back for the second part of the season."

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