By Martyn Herman
HARROGATE England (Reuters) - For German veteran Jens Voigt the best form of defence was attack like crazy as he snatched the polka dot jersey in the rolling hills of Yorkshire on Saturday.
The 42-year-old may be the oldest of the 198 starters, and riding in a record 17th Tour de France, but he showed there was plenty of life in the old legs with a courageous solo effort on the 190.5-km first stage from Leeds to Harrogate.
"I told myself 'go, make a show, do something crazy'," he told reporters of a memorable day in the north of England. "At the end of three weeks of racing in the Tour de France it'll only be a small episode but it's my episode."
No sooner had the peloton rolled away from the official start at Harewood House, Voigt and Frenchmen Nicolas Edet and Benoit Jarrier formed a three-man breakaway, but after the day's intermediate sprint the German struck out alone.
Leaving his two younger escapees behind, Voigt muscled his way up the Buttertubs climb, the second of the day, as huge crowds cheered him on, and he reached the summit alone, five minutes in front of the peloton.
Jarrier's Bretagne-Seche Environnement team even Tweeted during the race: "Don't you think France v Germany yesterday was enough?" referring to the latter's World Cup quarter-final victory.
Straining every sinew, he held on to win the third ascent, claiming more points in the climber's category, before lifting off the gas and allowing himself to be swallowed up by the chasing bunch well before the finish.
Explaining his bold approach, Voigt said it was born out of knowing he could not keep pace in the sprints.
"When I took the breakaway I told myself the first climb would be a test to know if I was able to fight against the two other riders," said Voigt who is riding in his last Tour.
"I realised I wasn't fresh enough for sprinting so I chose to go away on my own because it was my only chance to get the polka dot jersey.
"My body suffered all the way but I had in mind the reward I'd be getting at the end, that's how I managed to hold on.
"At my age I might lack the necessary speed for sprinting but my desire to do great things is still enormous," said Voigt.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)