"Vroom, vroom, vroom" he said, as he threw a leg over the top tube and pedaled off to the start line of the Tour of California's Stage 1 in Sausalito. Jens Voigt had just finished off a energy bar, sitting lazily in a folding beach chair, as if that's where he was staying for the rest of the day, at the back of the CSC (now Saxo Bank) team motor home. When Jenn and I walked up minutes earlier to say hello the action was all over at the Discovery Team bus and what few fans had trickled across the parking lot to CSC were focused on American riders Bobby Julich and Dave Zabriski. Still it was Jens that we were delighted to see. Jens is our cycling hero of endless breakaway attempt, failed and triumphant. This "animator" of the peloton is the rider I have channeled on endless rides and races. He is part old school and new.
At this year's Tour of California, while other high profiled riders were focused and disconnected from the eager American tifosi, Jens was on the trainer before the Prologue surrounded this time by a large crowd and someone shouted, "No more mister nice guy Jens", in reference to a Jens quote from years prior. Everyone laughed and Jens smiled and said, "Nooo, this year there are too many assholes, it's time for someone to be a nice guy." The laughter grew louder. Minutes later he shot through the finish just 15 seconds back of teammate Cancellara in the Prologue.
After that vroom, vroom, vroom moment in 2006 I realized more than ever what this magical thing called riding the bike is all about. Jens thank you for that precious, insightful, life-changing moment. I ride my bike with greater joy and childhood excitement because of that Jens-ism.
Every time I come to the start line in a race I say to myself - "Vroom, vroom, vroom". Every time Jenn and I jump on the tandem we smile and whisper "Vroom, vroom, vroom" to one another. It's become our Jens mantra. Our Madonna di Ghisallo blessing.
Yesterday in Stage 16 from Martigny—Bourg-Saint-Maurice Jens went down, violently, viciously, the kinda crash that hurts to watch even more if you have ridden and seen your front wheel flip and disappear before you like the rabbit in some strange magic act - How did it happen? Where did it go? Why me? Why now? you have no time to get answers to anything. You're down and sliding and maybe unconsciously praying. Jens remained unconscious and for a collective frozen moment all of us that love this German rider so much, who believe he IS the best pro cycling can be, we were shocked into tears of disbelief.
Jens is recovering in a Grenoble hospital. Today they said he was sitting up watching the Schleck brothers launch their attacks on the Romme and Colombiere. Said Andy "We heard great news this morning that Jens (Voigt) was going to be OK, so we wanted to attack in his honor." Paying 'their honor' jumped them up the GC into 2nd and 3rd overall and I'm certain Jens was smiling through that broken cheek and litinany of lacerations, smiling at the pain they were dishing out - the way he loves to ride. Jens is going to be okay - but some surgery and recovering will come before the next pedal turn - although I can see them wheeling him into surgery and the nurse saying, "what was that?" It was Jens mumbling "Vroom, vroom, vroom"
Get well Jens - we miss you - and can't imagine Paris or any other finish line without you.
"Vroom, vroom, vroom" I'll think of you through every pedal stroke this weekend.
(Note: For those of you who might not know Jens Voigt — he is arguably the toughest of strongmen of the pro peloton, known for his long, often successful solo breakaways, yet another of which, at age 36, attacking with 36 km to go, he pulled off to win a stage in this year's Giro, dropping the likes of world champ Paolo Bettini and Italian superstar Daniele Bennati. He’s also unfailingly cheerful and friendly off the bike, perhaps the most well-liked member of the peloton. For more about Jens read Bonnie D. Ford's wonderful article on ESPN.com Jens Voigt is the conscience of cycling )