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Jens Lehmann – One of the World’s Best Ever Pursuit Riders

"My heart simply beats for track cycling."

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The recent resurgence of interest in the Individual Pursuit sparked by Italian Pippo Ganna’s dominance, then further piqued by that remarkable man, Ashton Lambie’s historic sub-four minute world four Kilometre ride – which he backed up with a Ganna beating world title – got us to thinking back a few years to another man whose name will forever be associated with the 4,000 metre distance, Germany’s Jens Lehmann.

Boardman went on the professional glory taking the Pro Pursuit and Time Trial world titles, the Hour Record, Tour de France Prologues and Time Trials all over Europe.

But the man he caught was no mean athlete, Germany’s Jens Lehmann’s first international success came with the silver medal in the Worlds Individual Pursuit in 1989 behind the legendary Viatcheslav Ekimov; but he was still winning Worlds medals in 2002 – Individual Pursuit bronze and Team Pursuit silver.

Along the way came two world Individual Pursuit titles, four world Team Pursuit titles, two Olympic Team Pursuit golds, two Olympic Individual Pursuit silvers and a host of Worlds, World Cup and nationals podiums as well as some serious results on a road bike.

But Lehmann never deserted his beloved ‘bahn’ and wasn’t lured by the bigger pay days the road offers.

And he was still winning the national Individual and Team Pursuit titles as recently as 2004.

He has to be up there with Hans-Henrik Ørsted, Hugh Porter and Pippo Ganna as one of the world’s best ever Pursuit riders, and here’s what he had to say to VeloVeritas:

Jens Lehmann
Jens Lehmann. Photo©Cor Vos

Remind us of your medal tally please, Jens.

“I’ve won 85 medals at national and international championships; 14 of them I earned during world championships and four of them during the Olympics.”

Where and when was your first race, how did it go? 

“My first race was in 1980 in the town of Goelzau; it went quite OK for being my first race, I finished in 21st place.”

And your first win?

“One week later actually, so also in 1980, this time in Merseburg.” 

Second in the German Individual Pursuit Championships in 1989, was that your first big result?

“No, that wasn’t really my first big result. 

“For example in 1988 I was in the team which set a new world record during the national championship Team Pursuit.” 

The 1989 Worlds saw you take the silver medal behind Viatcheslav Ekimov.

“Yes, I felt just great and really confirmed – this was my first international success.”

Jens Lehmann
Viatcheslav Ekimov won Gold in the 1989 Worlds Individual Pursuit. Photo©Tony Graham

In 1991 you won double Worlds gold in the Individual and Team Pursuit – your biggest memory of that?

“My biggest memory of that… I was so overwhelmed that I kissed the boards of the Stuttgart track!

“With those results a childhood dream had come true.” 

Barcelona 1992 and Boardman came from nowhere to win – were you surprised?

“No, actually I wasn’t surprised at all; I’d been sick for quite a while, so what really did surprise me was that I was even able to take part in the Olympic competition.” 

And the other ‘Brit’ Pursuiter, our fellow Scot Graeme Obree – your thoughts?

“I have always accepted Obree and to be honest I think he deserves a huge amount of respect regarding his unique ideas – and his great performances.” 

Jens Lehmann
Jens Lehmann demonstrates his powerful start. Photo©Tony Graham

And you took Team Pursuit gold in Barcelona.

“Yes, that was special indeed – to take part in the Olympics is a huge honour, but winning gold is simply the greatest possible feeling for an athlete.” 

Stagiaire with Telecom in ’94 but no contract – and you never did ride for a big team?

“My heart simply beats for track cycling…

“Also, since there hasn’t been a big team for track specialists I have stayed with the smaller ones where I can ride my own programme.” 

Jens Lehmann
Jens Lehmann’s ‘hero card’.

German Individual Time Trial Champion in ’94.

“Yes, true, but like I said, switching to the road would have been the end of my track career and my heart belongs to the track.” 

And that same year you won the GP Telekom two-man TT with Toni Rominger.

“It definitely proved my strength concerning the road since we beat Chris Boardman, but I can’t mention it enough that the track will always stay my favourite.” 

Seasons ’95 to ’98, you had national success but not at World or Olympic level?

“My success came back once I had a new coach as well as new training partners in 1997/1998.” 

Season 1999 Team Pursuit Worlds gold and Individual silver; was it less painful to beaten by team mate Robert Bartko than anyone else?

“Yes. Seeing a team mate winning is always better than someone else.

“And since we later on all together won gold as a team, there was really just reason to be happy.”  

Jens Lehmann
Jens Lehmann had success in TT on the road but his heart was always on the track. Photo©Cor Vos

The year 2000 saw you as double World Champion; Olympic Team Pursuit Champion and individual Olympic silver again. A special season, but did you go in thinking you could beat Bartko?

“Yes I did, because I had already won against him in 1999 and 2000 during the National Pursuit Championships. 

“The race was really open and depended on the day to day form of each one of us. 

“In simple words the world’s two best track Pursuit cyclists raced against one another and one needed to win – and so he did.” 

2001/2002 and the rise of the Aussies in Team Pursuiting – did you see that coming?

“Australia has a history of excellent cyclists, who always train hard and prepare themselves as well as possible. 

“So yes, I did see that coming.” 

2004 and the National Team Pursuit Championship with a certain Tony Martin – did you think he would go as far as he has?

“Tony has always been a very good athlete and I did really hope he would go far. 

“It makes me happy to witness him making it as far as he has.”

14 seasons between your first and last Worlds medals – silver in the Team and bronze in the Individual Pursuits in 2002 – how did you maintain motivation all those years?

“I simply love cycling!”

1996 and Chris Boardman again.

And your last race was…? 

“Ah, it was in a track race on September 17th 2005 in my home town Leipzig – I took second place.” 

What do you do now Jens?

“I work as educator in an elementary school. 

“And since 2004 I’ve been working in the city council of Leipzig and right now I’m a candidate as sitting member for the German Bundestag. 

“I want to make politics come alive, to not just promote sports but society as well.”

Any regrets?

“To be honest, no, I wouldn’t change a thing. 

“Every success and every defeat made me who I am now and brought me to where I am at now – married to my beautiful wife Gabi, father of two wonderful children and happy with what I am doing.”

Ed Hood
Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 47 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, a team manager, and a sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days for some of the world's top riders. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

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