Shut Up Legs – Speaking to Jens Voigt, Pro-Tour’s Hard Man

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Known for his hard charging breakaways, ability to absorb pain and dish out suffering to the peloton, Jens Voigt recently retired after grabbing cycling’s hour distance record in September 2014. Cycling Malaysia speaks to Jens about his motivation, his experience in the peloton and views on doping.

“Shut up legs”. That quote is perhaps the most famous, of the many that Jens Voigt has uttered. Known as a very approachable rider, with a passion and commitment to cycle racing that puts many of his peers to shame, Jens is a favourite with fans around the world.

Jens admits that his recent retirement in September of 2014 was a big change for him. “It’s a little bizarre feeling. After 33 years, that’s three quarters of my life, doing something else, it’s a whole new feeling. I mean, cycling was the longest constant factor in my life. My oldest son is 19 years old, but I did 33 years of cycling. I went 13 years to school, but 33 years of cycling. I’m married for 11 years, but 33 years of cycling. So it’s a big change, and as funny as it sounds, I think the closest that comes to that is like a big huge divorce. Like your whole life is new, different. Your direction changes completely, into another way and I still need to get used to it.” However, Jens is positive about the change in his life. “But, it’s a new challenge, it’s a new way, new jobs to do, so that’s good,” says Jens.

Known for his tenacity and fighting spirit in the Pro-Tour, breaking away for solo stage wins, as well as helping team mates to their own wins, Jens decided to end his career with a bang, taking aim at the UCI Unified Hour Record. “The idea came during the last days of the Tour of California. I thought it was do-able, so I will do it. I asked my team about it, and they said, yeah, sounds good. Fabian (Cancellera) was also talking about it, so first we had to get his o.k. I spoke to Fabian, I said, Fabian, you are the boss, I am second, if you do it I am not going to do it, but you got to make a decision if you want to do it or not, and he said, no, not this year, so I decided to do it. We started with some secret testing in June just after the Critérium du Dauphiné, and we realised that we can do it, all the data was looking good. Then we started building a bike for me after informing the UCI we wanted to do it. We wanted to attempt the record on my birthday, on the 17th of September, but for training reasons and logistic reasons we couldn’t do it on that day, so we did it the next day, the 18th.”

Typical of Jens’ never surrender attitude, his next words explain why he decided to attempt the Hour Record. “I didn’t want to give the impression that I wanted to go easy in my retirement. I wanted to go out with a big bang, to show myself one more time, to give the fans something to talk about and to laugh about and smile about, ah, look at the crazy old Jensie, you know, he surprised us one more time!”

Describing himself as an all rounder, or rouleur, Jens says his biggest quality is that he has a big engine.

Jens’ riding style in competition is characterised by his penchant for solo breakaways, turning on the steam and putting the pressure on his opponents in the peloton. With a series of combative awards in the Tour de France and the ability to force the pace of the peloton in getting them to catch up with his breakaways, Jens plays to his strengths while racing. “Early in my career I realised I am not a top sprinter, not a top time trialler, I’m not a top climber. I’m o.k. in everything, but not a specialist,” says Jens. Describing himself as an all rounder, or rouleur, Jens says his biggest quality is that he has a big engine. “I can do a lot of work, without breaking down. That is the way I can win races. Everybody has to suffer, everything that makes the race hard and sticky is good for me. I could never win an easy race, and I could never win a race with too many mountains,” elaborates Jens.

Also stating a preference for stage racing, as opposed to single day races such as the Spring Classics, Jens says his aggressive, attacking style is more suited to shorter stages. “ I was one time second in Leige-Bastogne-Leige, but that was my only big result. I think they are just too long. With my nervous, aggressive style, I use too much energy. It’s good if you have 180 or 200 kilometers, but 260, I use too much energy before and I do not have enough for the final. I think that is what it is.”

Broaching the subject of doping and performance enhancing drugs, which has plagued professional cycling since the Festina affair back in the late 90s, Jens’ states very firmly he has never doped, nor did he see any instance of doping happening directly. He has never tested positive for a drug test in his career, something he takes pride in. Asked about how widespread doping was in the pro peloton, Jens says, “The way the public understands it (sports doping) is that everyone talks to everybody about that. It’s not like that. If you are not paying your taxes here in Malaysia, of course you don’t tell anybody. You keep it to yourself because you know you are doing something bad, you are doing something wrong. That is the same with doping. Why would you tell anybody? I never sent off a signal if I am interested or that I was looking for something. For them (dopers) I wasn’t the enemy, but for sure I was the last person they would like to talk about that together with me, because they knew I was not into it, I was not interested. But with the knowledge of now, yes, it was widespread. When we look back now, it was pretty bad.”

Jens closes the interview with his philosophy on how to be a successful racing cyclist, and looking back on his career. “Cycling is a working sport. More training, harder training, is better, generally speaking. There is no shortcut. You have to do the miles. You cannot start today and think you can do the Tour de France in July. That doesn’t work. You go to do the miles. And have self belief. Have self belief beyond reason. Don’t let anybody talk you down. Even when people doubt you, you go, no, I am who I am, I want to do it, I want this and I want to make it happen.”

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