By Susan Westemeyer and Bjorn Haake
Jens Voigt took the lead in the overall classification of the Tour of Germany on Saturday, thanks to a strong team time trial by his CSC squad. Voigt recaptured the yellow leader's jersey which he brought home from last year's Deutschland Tour by one second over team-mate Fabian Cancellara, who actually crossed the finish line first. That one second came when Voigt sprinted out of the peloton on the third intermediate sprint in Friday's opening stage. "I went for the bonus yesterday because you never know. In '99 I won the Criterium International by two-tenths of a second. You will always regret not taking such opportunities."
He called the team time trial course "a hard course, it went up right from the beginning! The second part was flatter on good, wide roads." He was glad, too, that his team's main rival Discovery Channel started ahead of them. "Discovery is very strong, and we wanted to start behind them, so we could get their time splits."
Holding on to the yellow admittedly won't be an easy task for the Berlin native. "Rettenbachferner will be hard, but now I have a little time gap and I don't have to go with the first attack. The next two days should be OK. But if I completely explode, we hope that Andy Schleck will take over. He is a great wildcard to have and we'd like to keep the jersey in the team."
Voigt has plenty of men to keep an eye on in his defence of the overall classification, especially Tour de France third place finisher Levi Leipheimer. "I would have considered Leipheimer one of my main competitors even before the race. But there is also Gerolsteiner, who have a good climber with Kohl and T-Mobile of course. I don't want to give a prediction right now."
The recent spate of doping scandals was purported by the German press to have turned the general public against cycling, but Voigt didn't see any sign of that. "Ratingen was my first race after the Tour and I was a bit nervous about it. But there were about the same amount of people and most were cheering us on. I have the impression that those who don't care stay at home and the others come to the races and are happy about it," he said. "Yesterday there were many spectators despite the rain and on a Friday afternoon," Voigt added.
Looking at other issues, he noted that the sport is having a tough time with sponsors right now, especially in light of yesterday's news that Discovery Channel would stop at the end of the season. The team insisted that the move was its own choice, and not because of difficulties finding sponsors, but the loss of the cable television network's support certainly didn't help matters. "It's hard to get sponsors right now. They come and they go, but it's not only because of doping. Sponsors make economic decisions and if they feel that they have gotten everything out of it after three or five years they leave."
With the dissolution of such a large organisation, the market is now flooded with riders and staff looking for work. "I feel for the cyclists, as they will have to look for jobs. Not only 30 racers, but also those who are behind the scenes. All the staff involved."
The news isn't all bleak, as CSC committed in June to continued sponsorship despite manager Bjarne Riis' admission of doping. T-Mobile and Milram's sponsor Nordmilch AG both renewed their support this week, and Voigt had more good news. "We stayed in the same hotel with Cofidis, and its riders told us that they will continue at least until 2008."
"We are thankful for every team that continues. Let's hope the Discovery Channel riders can find a job," Voigt concluded.