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Keeping it Real
Jens Voigt may have tied the record for participating in 17 Tours de France last year. But this year, the amiable German is once again a rookie. No longer a rider, Voigt is a neophyte television commentator.
Words & images: James Startt
From: Valence, France
“It’s been funny,” Voigt said after he finished commentating stage 15 in Valence. “I keep remembering this day that I went to the zoo with my kids and one of my daughters says, “Daddy, do you think that the monkeys think that we are the ones in the cages and that they are actually free? Do you think the monkeys are saying, ‘Thank goodness those people are in cages ?’” And that’s the way I feel here at the Tour. I’m still trying to figure out if the riders are the monkeys or us people following the Tour. I’m still working on that question. For 17 years I thought it was the followers. But now I am not sure !”
Voigt is covering the race this year for NBC. Most days he can be found sitting in a small tent just behind the finish line, where he adds expert commentary. And he is liking it just fine, thank you ! “We had a sort of test run at the Tour of California, and I guess they liked me okay, as I am here for the Tour.”
Watching the Tour from the outside, however, has been an eye-opener for the 43-year-old. For years, Voigt made suffering his specialty. But he seems to understand only now, the toll the Tour de France takes on the average rider. “This Tour is insanely hard. The riders are extremely tired. What’s wrong with just having one easy day on good, wide roads, where everybody and relax for just one day. Everyday has a tricky part in the middle, a tricky part at the start, tricky part in the end.”
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“I missed not being a rider for about 20 seconds,” He adds. “There was one moment at the team presentation where I was envious of the riders, all perfectly trained, full of hopes. There was a moment where I said, ‘Hey, did I ever look like that really?’ But then, when I saw the first stages, with the crashes, the stress, the drama, I was pretty happy with my decision to stop last year.”
But when it comes to being “The Jensie,” one thing has never changed. Even in the Tour de France’s private technical zone, Voigt remains ever popular. A registered journalist waits for a an autograph. Retired riders stop Voigt to catch up. And one VIP guest stops him to record a sound bite for his cycling buddies back home.
“I’m absolutely enjoying this,” says Voigt. “Hey, I’m still a fan. I still enjoy watching bike racing. And I really love the ability to combine some work with some pleasure. It gives me a great way to see the Tour and maybe even help the viewers understand it even more.”
Check in daily as Startt brings a different personality to Aérogramme.