If the Amgen Tour of California had a jersey for the most popular rider, it would likely go to RadioShack-Nissan's Jens Voigt. The affable German was in a good mood as usual in Sonora yesterday as he prepared for the longest day of the week.
His team has taken a back seat to the action as it looks to keep defending race champion Chris Horner out of trouble before the three key stages to come, and with no team willing to go on the attack in the climbs the race has gone to Peter Sagan, who won four consecutive stages.
It's been described as repetitive, dull and even a bit predictable, but the fact that Sagan keeps winning in Voigt's opinion is merely a matter of his strength.
"Does it make the sport worse? Does it make the other teams seem stupid?" Voigt asked, comparing the dominance of Sagan to that of an NFL team like the New York Giants.
"If he has that much more punch than anyone else, what can you do?" he said. "That's just how it is. He's just in superior shape at the moment and he's a good rider."
Each day has replayed the same script, despite a challenging parcours of mountains in relatively close proximity to the finishes: a breakaway of domestic riders goes up the road, the WorldTour teams peg it back and the groups rejoin for a large bunch sprint.
Voigt supported the Continental teams in their quest to gain publicity for their sponsors in the early part of the stages. "The domestic teams they try to get out there and get the stage win because they know they don't have a sprinter who can match [Sagan]. They don't have a climber who can match Horner or [Levi] Leipheimer in the mountains so they need to get out there and show their jerseys, which is fair enough. That's what I did when I was younger. Get out there, show my jersey and hope for the best, that somehow you survive and actually take the stage. It's good for them."
The fans in California may not get to witness Voigt galavanting off the front of the bunch this week, however, as he is too busy protecting his team leader.
"We have Horner, the defending champion in our team, it's a different strategy. We have an all for one strategy to get him safe to the finish and make sure he stays out of trouble."
That strategy means a large portion of the work in the first four stages fell to riders like Ben King and Voigt, who seemed to go so hard on the first stage Coleman Valley Road climb that he had to go back to the team car and vomit.
"That was on the first day, that was my mistake," Voigt said. "I had to work really hard on the Coleman Valley climb, after that I had too much cold drink in too short amount of time and I had to release all of it, Then I went back to my group and finished the stage. Ever since then I'm feeling better every day.
"It's not easy to control the race, but there are different interests and every team puts in a little effort. It's been OK so far."
At 40 years of age, Voigt and his teammate Horner are two of the senior members of the RadioShack team of the WorldTour peloton as a whole, but whether or not Voigt will continue to race in 2013 is still up in the air.
"Maybe it's my last year, I have to be honest I'm 40, and it's not getting easier. There are kids here half my age in the peloton. But I also wouldn't say definitely I'm not continuing," he said, but wouldn't put a firm date on when he would decide.
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