Jensie’s Last Ride

Posted: August 25, 2014 in Bike, In Transition
Tags: ,

The world of sport is a little greyer today with the loss of one of the toughest bad asses you’ve probably never even heard of; Jens Voigt.

Yes, Jens “Mr. Shut Up Legs!” (aka ‘Jensie’) Voigt has finally decided to retire from the sport of cycling at the ripe age of 42 (same age as me) after an exciting career spanning 17 years and yesterday’s final 7th stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge marked the occasion; alas, cycling’s undisputed ‘Breakaway King‘  is no more.

When I first started to get into cycling as a sport five years ago, I saw a Stage of the Tour de France where this guy pretty much sacrificed himself on the slopes of some French mountain for his team leader Andy Schleck (click HERE  to see). The announcers were making a big deal about the young rider Andy Schleck at the time faring so well in the race, but here’s this guy out front literally ‘burying himself’ as they say in cycling, to make all that possible.

Who is that?’ I wondered.

Here is this unremarkable looking guy absolutely suffering to bring his teammate (and Alberto Contador for that matter) up the side of a mountain and all the announcers can talk about is the on-going battle between the those two favorites. I made a mental note to learn more about this Jens guy.  Let’s talk ‘tough’ for a second: Voigt is known for his propensity to attack.  He is capable of repeated attacking, holding a high tempo, and breaking away from the peloton.  He has worn the yellow jersey of the Tour de France twice as well as the KOM (“King of the Mountain’ for you cycling noobs).  There’s lot of other titles and accolades of course but most notoriously, Voigt is as known for his fierce tenacity in competition as he is for his positive attitude.  You have to admire a person like that.

I do anyway.

As far as ‘sporting idols’ go I don’t have many. Usually they are more of the off-beat athletes that I can better identify with; more for their personality and character than them simply being awesome. For example, I never cheered for Wayne Gretzky; I rooted for Charlie Huddy. ‘Who’s Charlie Huddy’  you ask?

Exactly my point.

Charlie Huddy played on the revered championship Edmonton Oilers team of the mid-1980’s and present for all five of the franchise’s Stanley Cups. Of course everyone remembers Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Paul Coffee, Grant Fuhr and, of course, Wayne Gretzky…but Charlie Huddy? Who’s that?

As it turns out, Charlie was the team’s real go-to guy, being a versatile player that could basically fill in anywhere. Charlie was what I call a ‘work horse’, choosing to do whatever it was the team required of him rather than serve his own selfish purposes and letting the other players garner the majority of the spotlight. It is also worth noting that, at the time, not only was Charlie older than any of his teammates but he also spent more time on the ice than just anyone else setting up plays, defending leads, blocking shots and simply playing his balls off and doing as he was told. I respected that. Immensely.

I even have an old hockey card of Charlie Huddy to remind me of these virtues.

Later when I got into triathlon I gravitated towards the likes of Simon Whitfield. Not because of his Olympic gold medals, mind you, but because of his ‘never retreat never surrender’ attitude when it came to training, competition and, later, being a father. I appreciated the willingness to throw the odd ‘haymaker’ at life despite his age and, hey, when it worked, it worked. But when it didn’t he got back up, brushed himself off and worker even harder. I respect that kind of mental and physical discipline and that resiliency has stuck me over the past few years of my own triathlon training.

As I watched the Tour de France last year, the camera focused on a breakaway of three riders all going balls-to-the-wall. Two of the riders were clearly trying to simply endure the agony of pushing the pace so hard so late into the stage but, the other guy, here he was making silly faces and mugging for the camera. Yup, that’s Jensie! In an interview with the press later, he mentioned that he’d rather give the impression to his kids that daddy was having fun rather than being in the throes of all out agony. How can you not love the guy?  And that’s when I really started to take notice.

I figured out pretty quickly that Jens is a very likeable, down to earth and humorous guy as any YouTube video will indelibly prove. I read everything I could get my hands on and his column in our monthly Bicycling magazine, ‘Hardly Serious with Jens Voigt’, is the first thing I flip to when it comes in the mail. He is just so quotable. In fact, trying to list favorite Jens Voigt quotes would simply take up too much time and bandwidth and the fact that he is not known and adored by more sporting fans outside the cycling realm is a true crime. So for those of you who may not already be familiar with Jens awesome tough guy ‘bad assness’, here a list of 15 reasons why you should get to know him:

1.  Jens is a team player, a workhorse (In tour terminology, a ‘super-domestique’) who will never win a grand tour but rides every day with heart and desire that exceeds many tour champions.

2.  Jens just finished riding his 16th Tour de France, considered by many to be the toughest sporting event on earth (only two men have done 17 tours). Out of 15 starts, he’s reached the finish in Paris intact 12 times.

3.  Of the 20 men who have started The Tour past age 40, Jens is the oldest and chosen for the team for his strength of body not just his heart.

4.  Through the years, his physical fortitude – coupled with a relentlessly positive attitude – has helped turn him into cycling’s biggest cult hero.

5.  Jens contagious character and super-hero like feats has spawned tribute, “Chuck Norris” like website where fans contribute “Jens-isms.” Enjoy classics like,” Jens Voigt doesn’t age, he simply drops every year that catches up to him.”

6.  Jens has 66 victories as a professional and was once the world’s top amateur but, even at his peak, he did not have the climbing capabilities to challenge for overall victory in the world’s biggest stage races.

7.  Jens has ridden over 510,000 miles since he began racing competitively. That is enough to cycle around the world 20 times.

8.  Jens is what’s right about athletics: He rides not for money, nor fame, but for the love of it. He seems to relish every moment with gratitude, reverence and healthy sense of humor.

“It is the passion inside me that means I keep going,” Voigt added. “I love what I do and I think I am lucky to do it. When I am riding a quiet country road, I hear the birds singing and think ‘I am in my office now’.”

9.  Still one of the most elite cyclists in the world, Jens continues to train in the cold winter months of Germany—rather than traveling to a warm climate like most, because he refuses to leave his six children and wife alone.

“I have a wife and six kids at home in Berlin and I cannot just say ‘hey honey, listen I am going somewhere warm for a month to train, you all stay here where it is minus 10′. I am a family man and I have to find my priorities. “

10.  In the 2009 Tour Jens survived a horrific crash on a steep mountain descent, literally smashing face first into the asphalt and by sliding 20m down the road on his face – ON HIS FACE!  Let’s see your multi-million dollar Big League ball player do that!  He was airlifted to the hospital with injury and at an age where most men would have retired, Jens simply healed, and returned to ride every tour since.

11.  Jens has coined one of the most widely used motivational phrases in cycling, “Shut Up Legs!”  He actually is known to have this written on a part of his bike where he can see it.

“I tell my legs ‘just one more hairpin and then we will slow down’ but then I reach the next one and tell them the same again. Sometimes I am done – I would not be able to pull the skin off a custard – but my motto is to never give up.”

12.  In 2010, Voigt had another crash that left him with blood flooding out of a hole in his elbow and smashed his bike. Refusing to abandon the race he borrowed a small yellow child’s bike which he says made him look like “a bear riding a circus bicycle”.

13.  Because he said this about himself: “I hope I am allowed to say that the reason I am popular is because of the way I am, the way I race and the way I talk. I am just the old-fashioned, reliable guy and people always know I am after one thing:There is Jens. He will go in the breakaway’…

14.  In the 4th stage of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge (Tour of Colorado) a nearly 41 year old Jens executed the unbelievable feat of a solo break-away on Independence pass, riding alone, in the rain, into a head wind, for over 100 km, most of the entire stage to a better than 3 minute victory in Beaver Creek. Fuck anything Lance ever did, this was one of the most epic feats ever witnessed by one man on a bike.

15.  Speaking of Lance, Jens did it all without doping.

If you’ve tired of athletes, their egos, the doping… get to know Jens and get your faith in the human potential back. Jens is pretty much the opposite of everything that is wrong with professional sport. He’s a great athlete and an even better person who brings light and positive energy to his job each and every day or, well, he did anyway.   And I have no doubt that whatever his next steps are in this life they will be as equally amazing and I simply can’t wait.

Here’s an excellent Jens video summarizing his personality as a person worthy of respect:

People can keep worship the over-priced major leaguers, favorite MAA superstar, or whatever.  I’ll take guys like this any day.  These are the types of guys I strive to be.

So long Jensie.  Enjoy the much deserved retirement.

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