Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing) brought down the curtain on his Tour de France racing career on Sunday, ending a 17-year association with the race. The German, riding his final year of competition, still has the Tours of Utah and Colorado on his schedule before he finally retires, but he admits that he had mixed emotions after crossing the finish line on the Champs Elysees in Paris.
Now home in Germany before racing stateside, Voigt has swapped the trenches of the Tour and the sanctuary of the team bus for the arguably more demanding tasks of everyday family life.
Voigt is still coming to terms with having completed his final Tour. His first came in 1998 when the German lined up for Credit Agricole. Sixteen further starts followed with two stage wins and stints in yellow and the polka-dot jerseys.
"When I crossed the line in Paris, I rode a little further on and then sat down by the barriers to take everything in. I realised that I would never race again into Paris with so many people there to cheer us. That moment will never come back," he told Cyclingnews.
The 42-year-old was not guaranteed of his Tour de France place until roughly a week before the race started. He stressed in the build-up to the Tour that he didn't want his ride to turn into a farewell procession and that earning his place among Trek's final nine was an important principle. He was successful in that aim and managed to wear the king of the mountains jersey in the opening week.
"I'm happy that I did the Tour, but I know I'm not as strong as I wanted to be," he said when asked to assess his performance over three weeks.
"The Tour has been one of the biggest chapters in my life and it's closed now. I counted it the other day and I did 340 stages. I cut the ones out that I didn't finish. That's nearly a year of racing the Tour de France," he told Cyclingnews.
The emotions are still fresh and Voigt can see that the end of his career is nearing. After Utah and Colorado he will hang up his wheels and that moment brings with it a new set of emotions including excitement and trepidation.
"There's some relief mixed in there because I know that the suffering is over. There are no more scary downhill sections or pain in riding but I'm also a little frightened by what the future will bring. There's new pressure on me because I've got my family and six kids to feed so I need to make sure I'm out there working."
Voigt realises that the time was right to move on. He's no longer a rider at the height of his powers although he could arguably carry on for another season if he wished. At this year's Tour something hit home and when he sat by the barriers on the Champs Elysees he probably knew that it was the right time to stop.
"The Tour was particularly hard this year with the weather and the crashes. I'm glad that I got to race it one more time but I'm also happy that I don't have to go back because I realise that my body has slowed down. I couldn't catch the breakaways like I wanted to or like how I used to. When I was younger and stronger, there were times when I could make things happen and if I wanted to be in the break I could just do it. There was some luck and in all of that but it was getting harder and harder and my body just wasn't responding to the challenge in the way that I wanted to."
There was one final flourish, with a cameo role in the final stage of the race as Voigt powered clear of the peloton during the opening lap on the Champs Elysees. Not that he was gifted that right.
"I think a few people expected that I would show myself off the front, like it was me against the peloton one last time. It wasn't a gift though. I had to go full gas and make it happen. There was some talk about the bunch letting me lead onto the Champs Elysees but it was clear to me that it wasn't going to just happen. Plus I didn't want a present. All my life I didn't get gifts, if I wanted something I had to work for it."
"There's a whole bunch of mixed emotions but the glass is half full so instead of crying because it's over I'll smile because it happened."