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“Now that I am officially the biggest climber in the Tour de France I am waiting for a one million dollar contract next year. Hey, I am the best climber in the Tour - yes I will sign again!”

Photo: Sirotti

FABIAN CANCELLARA

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05.07.2014 @ 21:45 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Having taken the mountains jersey as a neo-pro in 1998, Jens Voigt's career came full circle when he made a smart move to conquer the same tunic on the first day of his final Tour de France. Being the best climber in the world's biggest race, the German now expects a million dollar contract to come his way.

 

There was no prologue to ease into the first day of the Tour de France, which suited breakaway specialist Jens Voigt as he attacked from the drop of the flag. Then, in the last kilometer, Fabian Cancellara made his own race against the clock with an audacious move under the flamme rouge, almost stealing the win.

 

The 190.5-kilometer stage from Leeds to Harrogate was far from flat, and it was an onerous start for the first stage of the biggest race in the world.  The twisty, rolling and frequently narrow roads through the English countryside was a rude awakening for the peloton more accustomed to the characteristic short time trial to kick off the grandest race of them all, but Jens Voigt made the most of the unconventional start.

 

The veteran Voigt bolted away at kilometer zero with two youthful, brave souls, and together the three formed the first breakaway of the 2014 Tour. Inevitably, all three would perish to the rolling terrain and a focused, edgy peloton unwilling to ease off the accelerator, but not before ‘Jensie’ dropped his two companions and soloed over the final two categorized climbs to grab the lead in the mountains competition.

 

“Since I have done this a few times, I realized that with the small roads lined with stone walls on each side there is only space for three of four riders, so I was sure that you have to be at the very front," he said. " When the first guys went I went right after them and the sprinters’ teams were well presented at the front and were happy with three, let us go, and shut it down.

 

"We quickly gained time but then also quickly the sprinters’ teams were chasing. I was wondering why they were chasing so hard with 190k to go, and three little riders…so I started thinking about the mountain jersey.  I was tempted to attack them before the first climb, but decided to save it, because it’s a long day.”

 

Jens Voigt was easily beaten in the first KOM sprint, and knew that if he were to claim the revered polka dot jersey he would have to rid himself of his faster break away companions.  He made his calculated move in the first intermediate sprint and went on a solo escapade over the next two categorized climbs.

 

“I had info from [director] Allain Gallopin about the riders with me, and I knew they were good because, hey it’s the Tour de France, everyone is good here," he said. " So I tried to beat them in the first mountain sprint, and I couldn’t.

 

"So I had a little chat with my body. What I don’t have is freshness, a sprint, and I don’t have a punch anymore.  What I do have is a big diesel engine, the desire to go, and the ability and willingness to suffer for a long time.

 

"I was beaten by two bike lengths in the first climb, and Gallopin came up after that and said, ‘hey conserve energy’.  And I said, ‘no, no no, the other way around! If I want the mountain jersey I have to go now!’  Alain thought about it, and said, ‘yes, yes yes, do that!’

 

“And so the intermediate sprint came up and I worked out a plan in my little head. It looked like I was just going for the sprint, and they let me go, and once I had five seconds, I was gone. You know it's the book of cycling page number one: Never, ever give one meter to Jens Voigt!”

 

With still 60 kilometers to go to the finish in Harrogate, Jens Voigt was back with the flock. But the polka dot jersey was his, a great reward for the strenuous effort.

 

With the peloton back to one big group the pace slowed. No one attacked. The general consensus appeared to accept the outcome of bunch finish and everything remained intact to the end. In the final 10 kilometers the lead out trains began their furious battle, and the peloton overcame the previous slow pace with a blistering speed in the ending kilometers. All eyes focused on the big sprinters.  Who would win? Who would wear the first maillot jaune?

 

Under the flamme rouge, as the road tilted upwards, Fabian Cancellara burst out of the peloton.  His well-timed move disrupted the trains and the textbook sprint finish was in jeopardy of a huge upset.  As the sprinters scrambled to catch Cancellara, he motored towards the finish line; it was a nail-biting ending. The chaos resulted in Mark Cavandish and Simon Gerrans entangling and going down hard. Cancellara put in a herculean effort but in the final 200 meters the sprinters mowed him down. Marcel Kittel (Giant Shimano) took the win and the first yellow jersey, edging out Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp), who finished second and third respectively. Cancellara held on for 11th.

 

“For three hours there was nothing on my mind except that Jensie was in the break," he said. "I did have to focus a lot on the roller coaster roads, the wind, the stress of the Tour; it was not an easy day, of course.

 

"But I knew even if it was going to be a sprint, there had to be another possibility, and I found this one possibility, and that is why I went. It was just 200-250 meters too long, or it may have worked. It was with intuition that I went – it’s confidence, a feeling, to see this moment; the occasion was there and I took it.”

 

It was a valiant effort from Trek Factory Racing for the first day of the three-week long race, and perhaps it sets the precedent they will be a relentless antagonist by grabbing opportunities as they arise. Jens Voigt was given the combative prize and will don a dossard rouge(red number) for tomorrow’s second stage.

 

‘Jensie’, never one to sit idle, and never one to leave an interview without generating a laugh, pointed out that he has come full circle from the his first Tour in 1998 to his final Tour this year:

 

“To finish the circle of my career I had the mountain jersey the first year as a neo-pro, also with a crazy breakaway in the first week, and now in my last Tour I have the mountains jersey again. I like that – it’s a good story," he said.

 

“Now that I am officially the biggest climber in the Tour de France I am waiting for a one million dollar contract next year. Hey, I am the best climber in the Tour – yes I will sign again!”

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