For the better part of Stage 20, the peloton got a view of the back bumper of Big Jens Voigt's bike. True to aggressive form, Big Jens joined the breakway group early, then took off on his own on the next-to-last climb when the pace of the others backed off. He was finally caught with 8K left on the final climb, when the overall contenders got serious about finishing on the podium.
"Basically, really, I knew I didn't have a chance. But hey, did that ever stop me? Of course not," Voigt told reporters after he had earned the daily prize as most aggressive rider. "I said, 'Hey, I'm Jens Voigt. I'll give it a go and give them a run for their money.'
"I just wanted to finish the Tour de France on a good note. I don't want to finish the Tour like a beaten-up old man and people say, 'Ja, ja, ja, that's Jens, he was a former good rider.' No, I just wanted to finish on top of things and say, 'Hey, look, I'm still here and I still have something left in me.'"
No one attacks with as much joy as Big Jens. He may be suffering like a dog, yelling "Shut up, legs!" to himself the whole time, but he's a showman. He's 41 but pedals like that bike is his first love and he is forever young. The crowd loves him, because he shows them how much he loves to ride.
Joaquim Rodriguez, on the other hand, attacked with purpose. He jumped away, hoping to leapfrog from fifth to at least third. Standing in his way was the Saxo Bank duo of Albert Contador, who started the day in second, and Roman Kreuziger, who was fourth. He needed just one hard acceleration to lose Kreuziger, another to put two-time champ Contador in difficulty. Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome jumped on Rodriguez's wheel and rode away from Contador, the way Contador used to fly away from his main rivals.
Attributing the change to Contador riding clean now, versus then, is simplistic. Doesn't mean it's not true. But something else is missing from Contador. He would "dance on the pedals," as Phil and Paul would say, with joy. He loved riding his bike. Riding was child's play.
He may or may not have doped, but he sure seemed to enjoy himself more.That lightness of being seems lost. He stomps and pounds more often. Riding is hard work, and it humbles him.
A two-year ban and the stigma of being a doper have aged him and sapped him. He's 30 but seems worn down by his sport than even Big Jens, who suggested that this Tour could be he last, so why not go out in a blaze of glory? Finishing fourth overall after his time losses to Quintana and Rodriguez on Saturday, Contador will ride to Paris off the podium and more a "beaten old man" than Big Jens could imagine being.