JENS VOIGT

With Paris- Nice round the cor­ner, Jen­sie looks back on his ex­pe­ri­ences in one of his favourite races

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Our race colum­nist on the lat­est events

We are at the dawn of an­other edi­tion of Paris-Nice, the ‘Race to the Sun’. And for many years it was like that - sun­shine and warm tem­per­a­tures once you got to the Mediter­re­nean. Re­cently we seem to have it the wrong way round. Lately we have seen edi­tions where they start in cold but sunny weather in Paris and then have rain all day for the last stages.

Paris-Nice is a very old and pres­ti­gious race. For many years it was the first se­ri­ous test of the year and it is still the first re­ally important stage race in Europe so there is al­ways pres­sure. All the WorldTour teams fight, be­cause the or­der of the team cars for the Clas­sics is based on WorldTour points. We all agree, I am sure, that all teams would rather have car num­ber one then car num­ber 17 for Flan­ders and Roubaix, right?! The French teams go all crazy be­cause out­side the Tour it’s prob­a­bly the sec­ond-big­gest race in France, and the se­lec­tion for rid­ers for the Tour team starts here al­ready. I saw it ev­ery year in my six years with Crédit Agri­cole. And since it’s a race or­gan­ised by the ASO (the Tour’s or­gan­iser), all the smaller teams used to go ba­nanas be­cause they wanted to earn a wild card for the Tour. Ev­ery­body has a rea­son to go full gas here.

The race has three parts. Some long stages to travel south and these stages are su­per ner­vous and stress­ful be­cause of the per­ma­nent dan­ger of cross­winds and many times we all have seen po­ten­tial winners or favourites los­ing the GC al­ready on the first or sec­ond stage. Then some hil­lier stages. The third part is the phys­i­cally chal­leng­ing stages in and around Nice. These days clearly favour the climbers.

Some Paris-Nice winners are not ex­actly tiny climbers. Good and strong all-rounders are made for this race. Like Luis León Sánchez or Geraint Thomas. What a leg­end Sean Kelly is for win­ning this event seven years in a row. I had his pictures on my wall when I was a kid. This man was made from steel, al­ways re­li­able and hard­work­ing. There was never a lucky win­ner of this race, it was al­ways hard work to win it. And it was al­ways a re­ally hard race which de­manded the whole set of skills. Time tri­alling, climb­ing, cross­wind rid­ing, down­hills, bonus sprints and fight­ing for po­si­tions. And re­ally important: just don’t crash, be­cause it’s a ner­vous race.

Times have changed. Steve Bauer once won the pro­logue with 1,000km in his legs. To­tal kilo­me­tres, not just rac­ing kilo­me­tres. Can you be­lieve, the first week­end of March and all you trained was 1,000 km?! Be­lieve me, if you try that to­day you will be out of the time limit al­ready at the pro­logue, pe­riod.

I did this race many times and fin­ished in the top 10 six times. I ac­tu­ally won the first ever ProTour point af­ter win­ning the pro­logue in 2005. And also in Paris-Nice was the mo­ment where I was of­fi­cially the best sprinter in the world. That year I won the green jersey in my first race of the year at Étoile de Bessèges, then again at the sec­ond race in the Tour of the Med. Then I won the green jersey in my third race of the year, in Paris-Nice. And to put it in per­spec­tive, a cer­tain Tom Boo­nen was sec­ond in the points that year. Three races and three times I won the over­all com­pe­ti­tion for the green jersey. That made me of­fi­cially the best sprinter of the world, no?!

It’s a crazy race full of sur­prises. Paris-Nice man­aged to keep the old glory and tra­di­tions alive yet adapted to more mod­ern times in cy­cling. I al­ways liked be­ing part of it. It’s sim­ply a great race.

Jens Voigt re­tired in 2014 fol­low­ing an 18-year ca­reer as one of the sport's most loved and at­tack­ing rid­ers. He held the Hour Record for 42 days. Com­men­ta­tors never did agree how to pro­nounce his name.

Paris- Nice is a re­ally hard race which de­mands the whole set of skills. And re­ally important: just don't crash, be­cause it's a ner­vous race

Sean Kelly, the seven-time ParisNice win­ner, is one of Jen­sie's he­roes

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