Voigt blows away the ﬁeld
BEAVER CREEK – German cyclist Jens Voigt made it look easy on Thursday when he pedaled solo between Aspen and Beaver Creek and won Stage 4 of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge by a landslide.
Easy it was not.
The RadioShack-Nissan team rider turns 41 next month. He is a father of six and the oldest of the elite group of 125 cyclists competing in the Pro Challenge. He was part of a group that made a breakaway from the outset when the 97-mile stage launched out of Aspen and up Independence Pass. As it was becoming clear that nobody was going to touch him, Pro Challenge announcer Phil Liggett made the comment that “99 times out of 100, the breakaway won’t succeed.”
But Voigt did succeed. Big time. He wore a permanent smile from the moment he began the last ascent up Beaver Creek to his celebratory jaunt across the finish line and into the press conference, cracking jokes all afternoon.
At one point while descending Battle Mountain (when he was estimated to be going 55 mph), Voigt’s lead over the peloton reached nearly 6-and-a-half minutes. Coming into Avon, he still led by 6 minutes but deliberately slowed down for the final climb to “soak up the crowd.”
“The race starts pretty fast. I saw 10, 12, 14 guys out there and I jumped to be in (the) group,” Voigt said “I realized, ‘Hey I’m on top of it.’ I looked at the group and thought, I don’t want to bring all of them with me to the finish.”
Voigt didn’t bring anybody with him all day. His teammate and compatriot Andreas Kloden took second in the stage, 2 minutes, 58 seconds back, crossing the line with a large pack of riders including Boulder’s Tejay van Garderen, who reclaimed the overall race leader’s jersey with his third-place finish. When asked what he thought of Voigt’s blowout win, Van Garderen, who also won Stage 2 and the overall lead on Tuesday from Montrose to Crested Butte, was in disbelief.
“Jens is the only guy in the world who could pull that off because he’s just that crazy,” said the 24-year-old BMC racer, who regained the yellow leader jersey from fellow American Christian Vande Velde of team Garmin-Sharp. “It was an impressive day.”
After topping Independence Pass, most of the day’s race took place over 10,000 feet. Then the rain started. But Voigt was only encouraged by the adverse elements.
“Somebody said, ‘you finish with two minutes ahead on Independence Pass and we’ll never see you again.’ That’s what I did,” Voigt said. “But Independence Pass is actually pretty hard. But so many spectators cheering you on makes you forget the pain. For the descent I thought, ‘Don’t mess up.’ Rain hurts everybody else more than me. I can keep going and struggling on. Whatever makes a race sticky and nasty race is usually good for me. I thought the only thing that can stop me is a deer running out of the forest into my bike.”
In spite of his bionic solo performance, Voigt trailed by nearly 12 minutes in the general classification going into Thursday’s stage. He still trails by nearly 9 minutes, a far cry from the 20 top riders within a minute of Van Garderen’s lead time. The German said that he and his team never set out to win the entire race. He equated an attempt to do so with other skiers trying to beat four-time World Cup overall Lindsey Vonn, who made a cameo at Beaver Creek on Thursday to present Voigt with his lifetime ski pass to Vail Resorts, courtesy of the Vail Valley Foundation.
“If we were skiers, would we say, ‘Are we going to win?’ We would say, ‘No, she’s just better.’ Tejay, Christian … they are just a bit stronger than us,” Voigt said. “We are here to get a stage win or a place on the podium.”
As far as who his biggest threats are in the overall race, Van Garderen didn’t hesitate to name a singular big gun: last year’s Pro Challenge winner Levi Leipheimer, who, after Thursday’s stage, trails by just 8 seconds in the general classification, behind only Vande Velde and Russia’s Ivan Rovny.
“Levi is in good shape. He’s looking really fit, really lean,” Van Garderen said. “He doesn’t have the strongest team here. My prediction is he’s going all in from Boulder. If he can get it all in from Boulder, he won’t need a team in the time trial.”
The Pro Challenge continues with Stage 5 on Friday, starting in Breckenridge and taking riders up another early climb on Hoosier Pass, 118 miles and 5,538 feet of climbing in total into Colorado Springs. Saturday is the last big stage, going from Golden to Boulder, 103 miles and a grueling 10,000-plus feet of climbing.
The race wraps up Sunday with a 9.5-mile time trial in Denver.