Our race columnist on the latest events
The Tour de France is over 100 years old, and I love all the stories from the old days. Like when French rider Octave Lapize shouted “You are murderers!” at the organisers while climbing the Col d’Aubisque on stage 9 in the Pyrenees in 1910. Or riders jumping on the train, and the old black and white photos with riders smoking cigarettes while riding along. Things have changed!
Or how about my father-in-law, Hans Jaroszewicz? He rode in the Tour de France in 1960 and in 1961 and, despite the fact that I won the Amateur World Cup in 1994 and had a bunch of good results, he only accepted me as a proper bike rider after I completed my first Tour in 1998. And now his daughter and I have six children, but no cyclist among them. End of a dynasty, I guess.
My first Tour was the infamous Festina Affair Tour. Holy smokes, that was an eye-opener! Riders sitting on the road to protest, police raids in hotels, riders in prison, teams flying home. My childhood dream came true, participating in my very first Tour, and then right in front of my eyes that same childhood dream was destroyed and shattered. My wife and parents were asking me what’s going on, what sort of sport is that?
But I have good memories too. We won the Tour with Carlos Sastre in 2008, and also the team classification. It was one of the few Tours we brought all nine riders to Paris. As we stood there on the podium for the Team GC with Carlos in yellow in the middle, the world’s press in front of us and the Arc de Triomphe as the background, I remember saying to my team-mates, “Boys we should all retire today, it can’t get any better then this.”
I’ve also got memories of crazy fans. One year I was working all the way through the valley before Alpe d’Huez, delivering my boys in perfect position to that climb. My job was done and I got dropped. I was all by myself between the leaders and the peloton. I had my head down and was trying to go as easy as possible to conserve energy. Suddenly I heard a voice screaming, “Jens! I love you! I want your child!” I turned my head to see who was shouting and saw this 55-year-old bearded man with the biggest beer belly in the world. The whole crowd laughed and, as tired as I was, I had to smile as well. One of my old team-mates François Simon won a bull one year. His expression of fear when he held that bull and posed for the camera was priceless.
If you’re thinking of going to the Tour, have a great time and remember this: stay safe and keep the riders safe. Let the motos and the riders pass, and then remember that the cars behind are a lot wider. I’ve heard of team cars driving over people’s feet. Apparently it makes this characteristic ‘flupp flupp’ noise and I would assume it’s pretty painful. The sport directors all flip the side mirrors in to make the car smaller and hope for the best. They simply cannot stop.
Every year 198 riders start the Tour and about a quarter of them don’t make it to Paris. Illness, crashes, time cuts or private problems take their toll. The Tour is great and wonderful but also brutal and unforgiving. It makes heroes and can sometimes break people, like we saw in the most thrilling moment in Tour history: the eightsecond win of Greg LeMond over Laurent Fignon. The first became a hero and the latter was never the same. Triumph and drama go hand in hand at the Tour.
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.
I heard a voice screaming, “Jens! I love you! I want your child!” I turned my head to see who was shouting and saw this bearded man
Voigt with teammate Carlos Sastre in the yellow jersey at the 2008 Tour