Jens Voigt retired from professional cycling in 2014. A popular racer who became famous for his one-liners and slogans such as “shut up legs,” he now rides his bike a little less. Voigt made the trip to Waterloo, Wisc., for the second round of the cyclocross World Cup and Canadian Cycling Magazine caught up with Voigt before he raced the Legends Race.
During your career, you were famous for pain, both taking it and bringing it. How does the suffering from cyclocross compare with road racing?
I would say they are both very hard in different directions. Cyclocross is short and vicious from the start it’s all in. Road race you cannot go all in the first hour because it’s four or five more hours to go. You need to be strong in the last hour. It’s almost like a different sport but both of them leave you completely exhausted at the finish line.
At the end of your career, you had famously vowed to hang up the bike, that you won’t even look at it. Now here you are doing very much the opposite. What drew you back to the bike?
I do a lot of riding in public with people. I like the social part of it, I like to interact with people, talk to people, hear life stories and tell them some of my stories. At home I have sometimes one week where I don’t touch the bike.
Also my kids go, “Dad, are you stupid? You told us you were retired, why would you get on a bike again?” So I do some running to maintain a minimal fitness. I am down to 5,000 km a year so I am not riding too much.
Your slogan is “shut up legs,” why do you think suffering and being able to deal with extreme physical exertion is something that resonates with people?
I believe part of it is this good old feeling of: pain, better you than me. Like my dad use to say, “Son listen, completely independent from your heritage or religion or where you live, people all over the world like three things to watch: rainbows, waterfalls and other people working.” Maybe that is some of the reason.
But I think part of the charm of our sport is simply we don’t charge entry fees. It’s like modern day gladiators. There’s drama and crashes and yelling and fighting, it’s exciting for people. You can come talk to us touch us. How many sports can you come touch the biggest star in the sport.
Are you a different person now that you have retired from professional cycling?
I am. I am actually. The good thing is I trained and raced, I squeezed everything out of me. I don’t have one competitive cell left in my body. I was paid to release the demons on other people, so nowadays I am happy. I have no more demons haunting me.
Is there anything about cyclocross racing you like more than road racing?
It’s more exciting. There is always something happening. At road racing, even though I love it and it’s my sport, we do have periods of say one hour where we have nothing happen. Cyclocross is not like that.