If there’s one thing pro racers are useful for, beyond the in-the-saddle inspiration they provide, it’s the ability to pass on so many tips and inside stories about life as a pro racer. The only unfortunate thing is that many pro racers are unwilling to divulge the insider knowledge they hold, or at the least, lack a certain talent at telling those stories.
None of that is true when it comes to Germany’s Jen Voigt. After a racing career that lasted almost two decades, “Jensie” has become an international phenomenon in his role as a TdF television commentator. Famous too for his “shut-up legs” mantra, Jens is a true jewel from the rough.
Recently, the German star made a guest appearance at a local Trek store (Westlake Cyclery) as he is still an ambassador for the brand that saw him out of his decades old racing career. Here’s some of the back and forth we enjoyed.
Q: Do you miss racing?
A: I don’t miss the crashes and all the pressure, and I don’t miss saying no when my kids ask for ice cream and I say no I’ll have a glass of water instead. Now I can eat ice cream with my kids – and I have the love handles to prove it!
Q: What rider do you most admire?
A: If I ever grow-up I’d like to be like Peter Sagan. I mean a three-time world champion and a real stand-up guy. I remember two times he rode up to me after the peloton caught me and he apologized for chasing me down. Also, Adam Hansen, I really admire him. I think it was three years in a row that he rode every Grand Tour and one year I saw him crash in the Tour and he separated his shoulder and right there on TV you could see him put his own shoulder back in place and then ride on to Paris – how tough is that?! On top of being so tough, Adam is soft-spoken, intelligent and just a fantastic human.
Q: Where did your famous “shut-up legs” motto come from?
A: I would have to say from my dad because he would always tell me that the mind controls the body, not the other way around.
Q: What’s your favorite food to eat in the U.S.?
A: Oh, that’s easy, In & Out burger with a strawberry shake. You don’t eat like that very often as a pro, but there are plenty of stages where you can burn more calories than you can take in so no matter what you eat, you’d still be in a deficit.
Q: What’s your best advice for an up and coming racer?
A: I call them my “3 W Tips: 1. Remember WHERE you are from and what got you where you are. 2. Remember WHO your true friends are. 3. Remember WHAT makes you successful – and it always comes down to hard work and discipline. You have to do the miles and the intervals. Cycling isn’t like soccer – there are no shortcuts. Taking shortcuts may look easy at the start, but they make it hard to finish.
Q: Worst moment in a break-away?
A: I think it was the time I was killing myself to stay ahead and the team car came up alongside and the radio was playing “Woman in Love” by Barbara Streisand. I was like, “C’mon you guys, I need some AC/DC!”
Q: What do you think about when you get away?
A: You have to consider a lot of things; the weather, the route, even the next day’s stage. If it’s an undulating finish, you know the sprinters won’t work so that helps. The one thing that can help, but I don’t advise using that often is anger. It can motivate you, but at the same time it’s just negative energy which is not good.
Q: Where are your three favorite places to ride?
A: I’d say Australia; Cape Town, South Africa; and Lake Tahoe.
Q: Do you still shave your legs?
A: Yes, old habits die hard.
Q: How much do you still ride?
A: Not as much as before. If I ride for four hours, it’s because I stopped for coffee or ice cream. Two hours is a good ride for me now. I like the gravel bike now too because it still goes fast on the road it gets you away from the cars.
Q: Did you have any pre-race rituals?
A: Not really because from breakfast, checking-out of hotels, team meetings in the bus and sign-in there’s so much to take care of. Unlike some guys, I never pinned my number on the jersey the night before.
Q: Can anything be done about the imbalance in racing with Team Sky?
A: It all comes down to the budget and they have more than any other team. Remember, their third best rider could easily be a number one rider on any other team. Team Sky is a business and they come to the Tour de France to protect their investment so there’s no room for chaos or creative racing with them. They don’t even need to know the rider’s names, it’s just rider # 1, 2 and 3. I think the other teams need to be more risky and take more chances.
Q: Was there ever a moment when your team director told you do something that you didn’t want to do?
A: One time during a wet, freezing cold stage in the Tour of California we couldn’t get warm enough on the bike and we were told to take our jackets off and attack because it would surprise everybody. We hated to do it, but cycling is not a democracy. You say, “yes sir” and deal with it later. It’s your job to do the work.
Q: How do you describe life as pro racer?
A: It’s a hard sport, but it’s a beautiful sport.