After signing a one-year contract extension at RadioShack-Nissan, Jens Voigt is hoping to help guide Andy Schleck and Fabian Cancellara back to the top of the sport in 2013. The 40-year-old has been a teammate to both riders for a number of years even as the pair struggled with injuries in 2012.
In fact, RadioShack ground through a number of difficult episodes this year - both on and off the bike - with internal disagreements over the management of the team aired in public and results slow to come by. The Tour de France was indicative of its season, with a prologue and several days in yellow followed by Frank Schleck testing positive for Xipamide and Johan Bruyneel facing a USADA arbitration panel. But despite the hard times, Voigt can see a bright future for the team.
“I see a lot of potential with our team, and I see that we have all the ingredients to make it a successful,” Voigt told Cyclingnews.
“For several reasons we didn’t get the best out of our team this year, but I see the challenge of trying to make this all work. I believe we’re going to come back and have a great next year and I want to be part of that. I want to help bring Andy back on track. I’d love to see him a being a serious contender at the Tour de France. Also Fabian. I’ve raced with them for seven or eight years and they’re friends now, not just colleagues. So I’d love to stick with them and see them come back, and I’ll be a little part of that.”
Voigt came to the decision to prolong his career at the Tour de France this year, where he came close to winning at stage in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine and despite offers from other teams, he signed for RadioShack, announcing his 2013 plans after winning a stage at the US Pro Challenge earlier this month.
“I said more or less during the Tour that I wanted to keep going for another year. At the US Pro Challenge, I announced that I’d stay at this team but I’d already made the decision to carry on for another year at the Tour. It was just a question over where I would ride for next year.”
“At the start of the year things were up and down. There were a few good placings, I almost won a stage at Paris-Nice but there were some bad moments when I did ask myself if I’d lost it. I was finally selected for the Tour and things turned around a little.”
The doping questions
Despite Voigt’s optimism, several unresolved issues hang over the RadioShack team. Frank Schleck has yet to hear whether he will be suspended for his positive test and Johan Bruyneel has yet to contest charges USADA relating to doping violations at US Postal.
“I have no doubt, not for a split second, about whether Frank did it knowingly. There’s the A and B sample confirmed, but I have no doubts at all that he didn’t do it to cheat, lie or enhance his performance. It doesn’t make sense. We’ll see what comes out with that. He’s been a friend of mine, I wouldn’t let him fall alone. Do you know what I mean?”
With regards to Bruyneel, the situation is a little murkier. There is no analytical test to prove guilt or innocence but along with USADA’s charges the Belgian was alleged to have run a systematic doping programme at US Postal by former riders Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis. Hamilton levelled the same accusations at Saxo Bank’s Bjarne Riis in his book.
Before signing with Bruyneel at RadioShack, Voigt rode for Riis for several seasons at CSC and while he says he believes in "truth and honesty" within the sport, he declined to answer when he was asked how he reconciles that level of morality with Hamilton’s accusations.
He later said, “All I can say is that I can only judge them from the time I worked together with them and we had a good relationship. I got treated with respect and paid that respect back to both of them.”
When asked about recent revelations and admissions of doping, Voigt said, “Some people have been more open about their pasts, some haven’t, and I wouldn’t put them all in the same box.”
“Obviously there have been some crazy times in cycling and it’s all coming out now. I’m a big fan of truth and justice but sometimes you’ve got to say this is so long ago and we’ll never find out everything, we should somehow find a moment and a way of saying lets draw a line and concentrate on making the sport better now.”
Voigt turned professional in 1998 with GAN and saw first hand as doping brought the Tour de France to its knees. There were claims then that the sport was going to clean itself up, Telekom announced they would introduce health checks, and the UCI’s flawed 50 percent rule also followed.
But Voigt is perhaps more of a realist than most. “We can’t promise what we’re going to do in 10 years time either, we have to live with what’s happening today. I’m a fan of truth and justice but this is dragging on and people are getting sick and tired of it. I want us to concentrate on now. We have a bunch of great talent coming up and I totally believe that things have changed in cycling for the better and I believe that.”
“If not I wouldn’t be here anymore. I’m 40 years old. The sport is better now, it is cleaner. Maybe use some of the money that’s spent on looking at the past on making today’s tests better and more reliable so we can catch the bad ones now. Today. This isn’t about me wanting to hide things, there’s a difference to what I’m saying there. Some of the things in the past are so far back that it’s impossible to find everything out. We’ve all talked about but we need to close it at some point and then move on. It’s painful to move on some times but sometimes you need to do that.”
Voigt is currently in Valkenburg for the UCI Road World Championships, where he will compete for RadioShack in the team time trial on Sunday. Cancellara will not compete, having drawn his season to a close already.
“We go into the unknown. Obviously not having Fabian there is a set back for us as he would be the engine of our train so that makes of course makes us a bit less optimistic but it’s a new event of all the teams. I’ve heard that GreenEdge has spent a month training for it and has taken it really seriously. Other teams have just tired to put a good team together and work it out from there. We’ll see how it goes. I think we have a good team and we’re willing to perform at our best and we’ll see what the outcome will be.”