Specialized Bicycles has come out with a new ad campaign. Specialized had been getting beat in this area in Tours past with both Cannondale and Trek producing much more compelling imagery. This time, Specialized wins in a walk because they put us all in the ad.
It opens with what looks like a 12-year-old boy hammering away by himself on a dirt road. Next thing you hear is the familiar voices of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen calling this year’s Paris-Roubaix. The boy checks over his shoulder occasionally and we see race winner Tom Boonen with dust flying and crowds screaming. We get the feeling that the boy is imagining himself leading the legendary spring classic and, like so many of us, imagining Phil and Paul talking about us. I love that ad.
That imagining the impossible is probably why so many Tour fans love watching riders like Jens Voigt and Thomas (Little Tommy) Voekler. Voekler first came to light back in the 2004 Tour when the juggernaut Postal Service team gifted the Frenchman the yellow jersey. Voekler became a legend as he fought tooth-and-nail to hang on to the golden fleece, against all odds, for 10 days before Lance Armstrong took over and eventually won. Voekler pulled the same move last year, then won stage 10 and the King of the Mountains jersey in a heroic breakaway on Tuesday with, as luck would have it, legendary hardman Jens Voigt.
Voigt I’ve written about before. I’ve met him. He’s about as nice a guy as one will ever meet. He is funny and quick-witted. He is as fierce a competitor as one could imagine, as well. When Tour time rolls around, he sacrifices all for his team. Day after day, year in and year out, he can be seen either flogging fellow cyclists in a breakaway or at the tip of the spear chasing one down. As a long-time Tour follower, I know deep in my heart that Voigt won’t win the Tour. He has won stages and even worn the yellow jersey, but his roll in the grand tours is more of a jovial German assassin.
Deep inside, I admire both of these guys. While Voekler has won every small French race possible, he chooses to stay on a small French team with a smaller paycheck, doomed never to have the sort of supporting cast that could get him a grand tour GC win. Voigt, who has plenty of smaller race wins of his own, seems happy ripping the legs off of other riders to pave the way for his team leaders. He is neither light enough to consistently win in the big mountains, nor fast enough, now at nearly 41, in the sprints. He is as hard as riders come and smiles when he’s done torturing his fellow cyclists.
These are the dreamers. These are the guys who ride out in flights of fancy and we love watching. They won’t win. We know it can’t possibly happen, but we cheer for them all the harder for it. Little Tommy heads out on two wheels to tilt at windmills while Jens sticks his nose in the wind for miles at a time, crashing head-first through them. I want to believe. I want these guys to succeed. I know it can’t really happen, either by design or by fate, but I keep cheering. It makes me feel like I’m routing for the boy in the Specialized ad, like I’m actually cheering for all of us out on our imaginary legendary wins.
I have cheered for them long enough that my 10-year-old daughter can pick them out in photos or on screen.
“Is that little Tommy Voekler?”
“Are we routing for him?”
“That’s Jens, isn’t it?”
Yes, Zoe, that’s him.
“Did you meet Jens?”
Yes I did.
Yes, yes it is.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.