Born in north-east Germany in 1971, Jens Voigt began his cycling career in communist East Germany. In his late teens, with the reunification of Germany, the doors slowly opened for this young rider who rode with passion.
In part one of the seven part interview with Christopher Jones of Bicycles Network Australia (BNA), Jens Voigt discusses his early years in cycling. You can also read the highlights from the entire interview: The Best of Jens.
BNA: You were born in East Germany, entered into cycling while the Iron Curtain was still up and the strong East German sporting programs were running. Can you explain the transition of racing in the East to then racing in a united Germany? Did you feel that there were a lot of differences?
Voigt: There was a significant difference. In East Germany we used to train long and slow building up a huge amount of base training, endurance kilometres, and we had a lot less racing than later. We had fewer races and most of the races were just normal road races so you had time for three or four weeks to prepare for a race and then maybe you would have the next race in another two weeks or three weeks. During the winter, cycle cross didn’t really exist in East Germany. We didn’t have a big [cross] tradition so in the winter months we had a lot of spare time.
When the Wall came down there were a lot more races. We had a cycling series, the Bundesliga [National Series] so you would have a race every week or second week and they were all important and hard races. Every single one was a championship race and if you didn’t have the Bundesliga, you had a lot of crits, short and intensive races. Our training program was not adapted to that. In East Germany you would have two peaks, the National Championships and the World Championships, or in my case, the Junior World Championships. And after that you would then have to be at 90 to 95% all year long. Before you would be starting at 50, 60, 70 and slowly building it up to 100%, go down and then come back up for the next meet. Now you have stay constantly on that very high level and as I said, our training program and the way we used to handle things were not adapted to that style.
We struggled a bit for the first three years before we managed to change things around and adapt to the new system. Definitely there was a lot of difference. Training was less the hours, but more the intensity. The normal cruising speed was higher and we did more intervals.
Photos ? 2011 Paul Green (www.thepaulgreen.com)
BNA: Do you find that experience and background with the East German training was an advantage for you? If you had of grown up a few kilometres away in the West, would you have had the same opportunities? Would you be where you are at now?
Voigt: No, I would never be where I am now. First of all my parents were both working but we never really had a lot of money and in West Germany my parents wouldn’t have been able to supply me with the bikes. I could have chosen soccer because a pair of soccer shoes costs 50 Euros, a bike is 500, 1000 or 1500 Euros, so my parents would never have been able to support me. I probably would have never picked up cycling; probably I would have been a runner; track and field, middle to long distance.
I definitely profited a lot from the whole system because it gave the rider a complete education in cycling. We did track, we did weight lifting, we did running and in winter gymnastics and circle training indoors. We used to do uphill sprints, running, endurance runs, of course road racing training. You would see every aspect of not only cycling training, but training in general. I definitely can say I profited from it.
See how many West German athletes at my age are still racing.
|…like a lot of things in my life I just do it with passion, that makes up for it. I don’t really know how it works, but I do it with passion.
BNA: How do you feel about training in other sports to help cycling performance? Do feel that a cyclist can benefit from this approach?
Voigt: I do a lot of miles during the season. Since this is my profession, I have to do this. Old people in Germany say “Radfahren kommt von Radfahren” [Cycling comes from cycling]. During the summer and preparing for the season you do nothing else other than to ride your road bike.
I really love to get out of this crunched up position at least one a year in the off-season. I love to do running, a little bit of roller-blading and some swimming. I love running, I don’t think I have the best style but like a lot of things in my life I just do it with passion, that makes up for it. I don’t really know how it works, but I do it with passion.
I think every cyclist should look a little outside, open up their horizons a little bit and listen and look into other things that are fun, do what you like and profit from that. If you only go riding, riding, riding all year long for ten year, you will just have a tunnel vision by the end of it. It is good every now and then to get your body to straighten up again and use your upper body a little bit.
Next Part: The Jens Voigt Interview Part 2: The Psychology of Cycling
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The Jens Voigt Interview:
Highlights: The Best of Jens
Part 1: The Early Years
Part 2: The Psychology of Cycling
Part 3: Cycling Technology
Part 4: Team Leopard
Part 5: Doping and the UCI
Part 6: German and Australian Cycling
Part 7: The Jens Phenomenon and the Future