Recalling how Voigt led Tour through Yorkshire

Picture by Dean Atkins/SWpix.com - 05/07/2014 - Cycling - Tour de France 2014 Grand Depart - Stage 1, Leeds to Harrogate - Yorkshire, England - 'Jens Voight of Trek Factory Racing leads the race up the Cote De Grinton Moor
Picture by Dean Atkins/SWpix.com - 05/07/2014 - Cycling - Tour de France 2014 Grand Depart - Stage 1, Leeds to Harrogate - Yorkshire, England - 'Jens Voight of Trek Factory Racing leads the race up the Cote De Grinton Moor
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For those of us stood on the Cote de Cray, Buttertubs Pass or Grinton Moor, he was the first cyclist to emerge from the haze into the corridor of deafening noise and vivid colour.

Years of build-up, days and weeks of excitement levels rising, and all for this; a glimpse of the first brave pedaller straining every sinew to reach the top of one of Yorkshire’s mighty summits on the opening day of the 2014 Tour de France.

Jens Voigt 'King of the Mountains'. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Jens Voigt 'King of the Mountains'. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

There is very little in the world of cycling Jens Voigt had not experienced in a career he ended during the winter.

He won stages of the Tour de France, wore the yellow jersey, earned victories in the Classics and supported a team-mate to a gold medal in an Olympic road race.

The affable German even signed off last September by breaking the hour record on the track, sparking the new craze in the sport that led to the mark being lowered in front of a packed London velodrome by Sir Bradley Wiggins last month.

Yet even at the ripe old age of 42, Voigt was still discover something new and wondrous in the hills of the White Rose county.

“In my long career I did one Grand Depart in Dublin in ’98 and I was there in 2007 in London when (Fabian) Cancellara won and I’m fortunate to say that I was there at the 2014 Tour de France in England again – and every time it was becoming bigger and better,” recalls Voigt, a notable absence from the peloton for the 102nd Tour de France which begins in Utrecht today.

“I remember the climbs. On Buttertubs Pass you could hardly see the road. The helicopter images were stunning, beautiful,” says Voigt, who led the 198 riders up the county’s crowded climbs.

“I am happy that that was my last Tour and I could experience that. There was a strong support for cycling in England.

“The fans were fair, they not only cheered for Team Sky and the British riders, they cheered everybody who put in a great performance.

“When (Vincenzo) Nibali won that second stage in a daring and clever move he took time out of (Chris) Froome, but people didn’t boo because he was beating the British rider, they appreciated that he took the bull by the horns, that he created his own destiny, that he attacked on the last climb.

“Fans were supportive of all cyclists and we loved it.”

Yorkshire’s two days in the sunshine produced a pair of stages packed with incident befitting of the final week of the Tour de France, never mind the first.

On day one there was Mark Cavendish’s Tour-ending crash on Parliament Square and Marcel Kittel’s sprint to victory.

Day two saw Froome and Alberto Contador flex their muscles on Jenkin Road – a narrow ascent through the industrial heartland of Sheffield, with its 33 per cent gradient at the top being a particularly nasty sting in the tail – before Nibali’s attack took him past Meadowhall to a victory that would eventually end with him climbing to the top step of the podium in Paris three weeks later.

Voigt wore the polka dot jersey for being King of the Mountains that second day from York to Sheffield but was unable to retain it.

The bravado he had shown from Leeds to Harrogate – joining a three-man break with Benoti Jarrier and Nicolas Edet from Harewood House before setting off alone up the Cote de Cray, Buttertubs Pass and Grinton Moor – could not be replicated 24 hours later up Cote’s de Blubberhouses, Oxenhope and Cote de Ripponden.

The man who took the polka dot jersey was Cyril Lemoine, a little-known Frenchman who would depart Yorkshire sharing the title of ‘King of the Dales’ with Voigt.

The world of cycling headed south having captured the imagination of Yorkshire folk young and old, and the feeling was mutual.

“In 2007 we had a team presentation in Trafalgar Square and there were 500,000 people there and it was a huge success and the Tour organisation were blown away. Last year’s Tour was exactly the same,” continues Voigt.

“It was marvellously done in terms of security, support; it felt like the whole country was standing still. Half of the country was on the side of the road and the other half was watching on TV.

“It set the standard really high for all other cities and countries when they come to host the Tour de France.”

So good luck then to Utrecht, in the Netherlands, which today hosts the Grand Depart of the 2015 Tour de France, a 13.8km time-trial, before two more stages in Holland.

As the Tour de France develops over the coming weeks it will be hard for the nostalgic among us not to cast our minds back to that momentous first weekend in July, 2014.