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One of my favorites in this year’s Tour de France is 39 year old German veteran Jens Voigt. Not because he is the fastest (though he is wayyyy strong), or a team leader. No, what I most admire is his raw courage, the never say die attitude he brings every day he’s on a bike.
Last year, Voigt was forced out of the tour after suffering a terrible crash while descending a mountain in stage 16. This year, he is back, strong as ever and often at the front of the pack, helping his teammate Andy Schleckt towards a win in Paris. That was until Tuesday’s stage 16 descent of Peyresourde Pass.
“I came over the top only 20 seconds down on the front group, but about 2 kilometers into the descent my front tire blew and I thought, “Oh God,” and I went down. Just one year after my horrible crash, and there I was tumbling on another mountain descent. And let me tell you, about the only place that feels good right now is my right ankle. The rest of me is all road rash. Plus I’ve got five stitches in my left elbow and then there are some ribs that are not in the right place! I may have to get x-rays, but I hate x-rays (the radiation), and plus, if I’ve got a fractured rib, what can anyone do about it?”
Deja vu! 16 is not Jen’s lucky number. Not only was he badly injured, his bike was shattered in the crash (carbon composite does that when it fails). “So then the broom wagon pulled up and was like, “Do you want to just get in?” And I said, “Oh no, I don’t need YOU!” But there I am with blood spurting out my left elbow and no bike. Finally, the race organizers got me a bike, but it was this little yellow junior bike. It was way too small for me and even had old-fashioned toe-clip pedals. But that is the only way I could get down the mountain, so I had to ride it for like 15-20 kilometers until I finally got to a team car with my bike.”
Jens proceeded to get on his replacement bike and rode like crazy to catch a group and followed them to the finish line, making the time cut and the chance to ride another day in the tour.
“Needless to say, I had plenty of time to come up with a fitting book of the day. It’s from the Disk World series by Terry Pratchett. In it, the protagonist is Conan the Barbarian, who is a 70-year-old who has just survived everything. At one point he, and his other old warrior friends capture this village, but then they find that they are surrounded by an army of tens of thousands, and his only reaction is, ‘Oh man, it’s going to take days to kill all these people!’ And that’s the way I was today when I was lying on the ground. I just thought, ‘Oh no, I’m going to Paris this year, I’m going to Paris. There’s just no way you are going to get me out of this race for the second year in a row!'”
Amazing courage. Even more amazing when you consider Voigt crashed on the first mountain of the day. He soldiered on over three more mountains, including the legendary Tourmalet. Determined, courageous, humorous, and pretty humble about it. You won’t find many better role models for the tour, cycling, or life in general. Good on ya, mate!