Jens Voigt admits that his failed breakaway on stage 4 of the USA Pro Challenge was a somewhat fitting vignet that summarised his entire cycling career: after hitting out in the day's breakaway from the start of the 113km stage in Colorado Springs, he admittedly attacked too early and ended up being caught within sight of the finish line.
Yet after 40km of abject agony, Voigt was awarded with the most aggressive rider's prize, a designation that could probably be put next to his name against his entire generation of professional cyclists. With only three more stages until he hangs up his wheels for good, Voigt was able to hit out, as it said on the back of his cycling shorts, "one last time" and put on a show for his numerous American fans.
"Despite the fact I was hurting, I was giving it my all. I was soaking it up," Voigt said in the post-stage press conference. "I saw all the signs: 'Farewell Jens,' 'Shut up Legs,' I could hear the yelling of the crowds all along the course. It felt like my home crowd here.
"I wanted it like that, and needed it like that one last time this week. I felt obliged to entertain my fans one more time in the fashion they would expect me to."
Voigt held no grudge against the riders who chased him down with just 900 meters to go, saying that Cannondale was under pressure to win as an American company - Elia Viviani succeeded in that regard.
"Maybe it was better that I was caught," Voigt said. "It's the story of my life, from 40 breakaways, maybe one works to win. It was a typical breakaway, you go out, you give it your all, you get caught and you go 'grrrrrrr!'. It's a perfect example of my career: putting it all on the line, taking the risk of looking stupid for attacking so early. I liked today.
"I'm happy, I feel like I had success. I didn't win, but I could show I as a force to be reckoned with. Even though I don't win, I'm happy and proud today."
As he enters the final days of his cycling career, Voigt has been in high demand from the media and the fans, but he has met each obligation with a smile. Going on a 40 kilometer solo breakaway was easy in comparison, he said.
"Doing a breakaway is my job, I know what to do. Yes, it's physically very hard, but it's simple. You just go all in. With interviews, you have to be always concentrated and come up with a nice answer. If you get asked 20 times 'what was your best moment in cycling' you can't come up with 20 different best moments, so you end up repeating yourself a bit. You shake hands here, and smile over here, and take pictures here. Just riding the bike is the easy part."
The warm treatment that Voigt has been given from the American fans comes in sharp contrast to the cold shoulder that the German media has given the sport of cycling since 2007, when T-Mobile yanked its support for the sport over doping scandals, and then pulled its coverage of the Tour de France after the doping cases of 2008.
"The German media seem to be a little more difficult than other media. But, I think next year you'll see the Tour on German TV, and it's going the right way," Voigt said. Riders like Tony Martin, Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb have turned the sport around there.
Although he has plenty of fans in Germany, and was given a fond farewell at the Bayern Rundfahrt earlier this year, Voigt said that ending his career in Colorado felt more like his home crowd, and when he stepped onto the podium to receive the most aggressive rider's jersey today, he had more applause from the crowd than even the race leader Tejay van Garderen, a Colorado resident.
"It was a little emotional on the podium," he admitted. "It was the closest to crying since the birth of my first child, that's nineteen years ago. Maybe the first time in my grown up life I had tears in my eyes.
"It was a beautiful and emotional moment. I was happy I could be one more time on the podium with so many great riders."
Voigt said he had talked with Trek's Joe Vadeboncoeur, their Global Director of Product Development, Marketing and Creative Design, about his future following his retirement from racing. "I want to keep working here."
As he looked ahead to the final three stages, Voigt saw little opportunity for another valiant breakaway, but thought instead he might target a high placing in the Vail time trial on Saturday.
On his last foray off the front, Voigt hoped that his example would help to inspire the next generation of riders to take not only cycling but life by the horns, the way he has.
"Hopefully I've shown them you just need some self-belief and that you need to take destiny into your hands instead of waiting for it. You have to go out and force it. You need to go out and take life and shape your future and destiny the way want it, and you need it. I hope I can pass that message along."
Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A swimmer in her younger days, Laura made the change to cycling later in life, but was immediately swept up by a huge passion for the sport. Riding for fitness quickly gave way to the competitive urge, and a decade of racing later she can look back on a number of high profile races and say with confidence, "I started". While her racing days are over for the most part, she continues to dabble in cyclo-cross and competing against fellow pathletes on the greenways of Raleigh, North Carolina.
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