Jens Voigt: Life after retirement

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When Jens Voigt retired he thought he’d go fishing “five days out of 10” but has instead been traversing the globe as an ambassador and quasi philanthropist.

Voigt flew to the Tour of California direct from Australia this month where he personally raised more than $12,000 for cancer charities at the annual Tour de Cure ride from Adelaide to Melbourne. It was his second trip to Australia this year after a stint at the Tour Down Under in January as a race ambassador.

“I’ve got hungry mouths to feed at home,” he said during a one-hour interview in Melbourne.

“People still have that illusion that I’m a millionaire, I’m far away from it. I’m not complaining, I was paid really nicely [as a cyclist], and my house is paid off, but I live in Germany, six children, I pay my taxes there so it’s not that I can live off my money.

“I was never in the category like, I don’t know, Andy Schleck, [Fabian] Cancellara or [Mark] Cavendish, I never earned that much money so I still have to work somehow. Plus, I’m 43; I believe I’m too young to have no goal in life, to have no job, to just hang around. You can do it when you’re 70, not at 43. You still need a reason to get out of bed in the mornings.”

Voigt’s tan lines have faded and he admits he hasn’t been on the bike much since retiring with the Hour Record, which has been trumped, in September.

He is not fit by his standards but was still asked to perform a team time trial on his own during the 1335km biking event to Melbourne.

“My unhappiness about being less fit is not big enough yet to make me go back on the bike,” he said. “I’m waiting for the day, it’s coming, I can feel it now, the nine days at the Tour de Cure did really help me to recover some of the love of cycling.”

Voigt admits the transition into retirement after a road career that spanned almost two decades has been different to what he anticipated.

He spent a couple of months before Christmas oblivious to what was happening in the WorldTour and left his bike, until recently, to gather dust, unable to associate it with anything other than pain and suffering.

“Sometimes you wake up and you have the biggest smile in the world, you go, I don’t have to go training, how good is that! No more WorldTour races, no more suffering, no more risk of crashing.
But then it’s a whole lot of little things,” he said.

“I did Tour Down Under this year and you wake up in the morning, have breakfast with the boys and chat with them and you all go across the street to [the race village]. They all jump on their bikes and go, ‘ciao, Jens,’ and you walk back to the hotel.

“That was so painful,” he continued, hand to heart. “I’m not in the inner circle, I’m not one of them anymore and that is hard to realise after 33 years of cycling, 18 years as professional.

“Then everybody gets a new bike, not me, this is the first time that I start a year using my old bike.”

Voigt in his travels this year has reconnected with the sport. He has read some of the 228-page Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) report published in March, “I don’t think there was anything too shocking in there”, and seemingly followed topical issues like Astana’s WorldTour team licence case.
The 43-year-old is as forthcoming in retirement as he was in the pro peloton but also resentful of the ardent focus around issues derived from the report, which addressed doping and scrutinised past UCI presidents he competed under.

“You know what I hate? That I’m retired and I’ve still got to answer the same questions,” he said. “I really hate that. It just never stops.”

Voigt, however, does diligently answer all related questions in the manner of a statesman.

“Being UCI president … you basically can only lose,” he said. “You can’t make everybody happy. At no point I would like to have that job at that time because you’re under so much public pressure that you can only fail sort of.

“Things like when you give a licence to teams, they maybe don’t deserve a licence but what can you do?

“The UCI has, I don’t know, let’s say they have a $2 million budget. Some teams they have oil companies behind them worth hundreds of millions so if they decide to sue the UCI for a licence, the UCI has no chance. They can fight this case one year or two years, some of these teams, or team owners, just pump another 100 billion litres of oil off the earth and recreate another billion dollars and pay their lawyers. The UCI doesn’t have that. They’ve got to go, ‘I’m sorry, but we can’t fight it.’”

Voigt isn’t interested in pursuing a role in politics and appears as dedicated to new career pursuits as he was to racing.

The German greets fellow charity riders as they filter through the Melbourne hotel lobby he is sitting in, able to address them by name and reference background.

It’s been an eventful eight months of transitions but Voigt, who leaves the interview bound for a trip to the zoo, may return to something familiar soon.

“When I go back home in Europe, we’re heading towards the summer, I believe maybe two more months, beautiful morning, kids are all dropped off in school and kindergarten and I go, ‘do you know what, honey? I think I should go for a two hour bike ride now, just because,’” he said.

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