Jens Voigt, at 41 the oldest rider in the 2013 Tour of California, twice taught the other riders that will and wisdom can trump youth, while riding to a solo victory in Stage Five.
The RadioShack-Leopard rider split the peloton two-thirds of the way through Stage Five, then attacked the leading group in the last five kilometers and drove himself through a headwind up a rising finish to win the stage despite the best efforts of the best riders in the world.
“We had a close look at the road circuit today and saw at 125 km into the race when the road turned just a little bit and the headwind switched to a crosswind that we could do something there,” Voigt said on radioshackleopardtrek.com.
“I have been doing the same moves for a long time in my career, almost since the last ice age,” he joked.
“Sometimes, like last year in Colorado I did it at 140 km to go; today it was 5 km to go.
“They know what my plan is and that I cannot win a sprint. You have to catch them by surprise. That’s why it works. “Sometimes they underestimate me. Today it worked in my favor.
“I will also say that I do still have some ‘go power’ left in my legs. Not every day like five or ten years ago, but once I’m out there and can smell the victory, I want it again.”
The stage started like most sprint stages: three riders escaped near the start, and the peloton let them open a gap, planning to chase them down before the finish.
The three riders, Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), Kai Chun Feng (Champion System,) and KOM leader Carter Jones (Bissell) started stretching their lead up the day’s one hill, the Cat Two San Marcos Pass, getting 8:30 ahead of the peloton by the peak of the climb.
The day was dry and windy, but not hot as it had been early on the race. The peloton rolled on, cutting the gap to 4:30 after 100 km of racing. As the crosswinds increased, the breakaway riders struggled and the gap plummeted.
55 km from the end of the 186-km stage, the peloton hi8t the same strong crosswinds, and Jens Voigt was ready. He had lined up his RadioShack team mates in echelon, a diagonal line across the road, and while the rest of the peloton fought the wind, the RadioShack riders accelerated away.
A few riders recognized what was happening and jumped onto the RadioShack line; most of the peloton was caught out.
The new leading group of about 12 riders caught the breakaway and pushed on. Another half-dozen riders were able to make it across, but the rest of the peloton, including race leader Janier Acevedo of Jamis-Hagens Berman got caught on the wrong side of the split. BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen made the split, and had a chance to take the yellow jersey if the break survived.
Radio Shack’s General Classification contender, Matthew Bushe, of course made the break; Jens Voigt created the split to help his team leader.
Ultimately 17 riders made it into the leading group: Jens Voigt, Matthew Busche, and Mirkel Irrizar (RadioShack Leopard,) Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp,) Tejay Van Garderen, Thor Hushovd, and Michael Schär (BMC,) Baden Cooke, Mitchell Docker, Cameron Meyer, and Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge,) Peter Sagan (Cannondale,) Michael Rogers, Jonas Aaen Jørgensen, and Jay McCarthy (Saxo-Tinkoff,) Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM,) Chun Kai Feng (Champion System,) and Alex Candelario (Optum.)
Two of the three original escapees were able to latch on to the new breakaway as it passed by: Chun Kai Feng and Thomas De Gendt benefitted from their early aggressiveness.
The group contained some strong sprinters: Tyler Farrar, Peter Sagan, Thor Hushovd, and Michael Matthews were some of the sprinters which would have ended up contesting the finish if the peloton hadn’t split.
Jens Voigt knew who was in the break. He knew that Matthew Bushe would advance in GC. Voigt also knew that he had no chance for a stage win if he waited for the final sprint.
The peloton chased hard for almost an hour before it finally accepted the fact that it couldn’t catch the breakaway. Eleven km from the finish line the gap was fifty second; halfway to the line it had grown to 1:15.
Then, just as the breakaway riders felt safe and started thinking about the final sprint, Voigt struck.
Knowing he would get dropped in a sprint, the crafty German planned and waited and attacked at the perfect moment. It took two kilometers for the remaining breakaway riders to realize that Voigt meant to persist. Thomas De Gendt and Jonas Jorgensen finally responded, but it was too late.
“To win from that group, I knew I would have to go alone,” Voigt explained. “I had hopes they would look at one another to chase me and give me twenty seconds—once you do that, I’m gone.
“Once I went and then looked back to see the gap, I couldn’t believe they had given me 20-seconds. I said to myself, ‘Yes!’ It was pretty hard and I really had to dig deep. I’m a happy stage winner.”
It was close. The final 200 meters sloped uphill, and Voigt had been pushing hard for 55 km, but the big German, whose favorite English expression is “Shut up, legs,:” told his tired legs to be quiet and work harder for just a few more minutes.
Voigt crossed the line six seconds ahead of Garmin-Sharp’s Tyler Farrar, who outsprinted Thor Hushovd, Peter Sagan, and Michael Matthews.
The RadioShack rider is well known to American fans, after his amazing solo victory in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in August 2012. U.S. fans are getting used to the sight of Voigt riding alone across the finish line in a stage in which he should finish near the back.
Tejay Van Garderen moved into the race lead, 42 seconds ahead of Saxo-Tinkoff’s Michael Rogers, the 2010 winner. Janier Acevedo dropped to third, fifty seconds back, and RadioShack’s Matthwe Buishe took fourth at 1:04.
Tejay Van Garderen had planned to take the yellow jersey in Friday’s Stage Six time trial; Voigt’s tactical knowledge got him there a day early.
That time trial is long and technical, with a three-kilometer, ten-percent climb at the finish. Stage Seven finishes with a brutal climb to the summit of Mount Diablo. The Tour of California will be decided there.