What else could an autobiography by Jens Voight (“Jensie”) be called other than “Shut Up Legs”?
While James Startt, an American photographer and writer based in Paris, assisted Jens Voight in the writing of the book, the style just comes over as pure Jensie in his inimitable way, with his sense of humour and quotable catchphrases.
It has been suggested that he spent more time at the front of the Tour de France in his record-equalling 17 appearances in the event, but only ever wore the yellow jersey twice.
Jens Voight won the Critérium International 5 times along with a number of one-week stage races, and 3 Tour de France stage victories, but it was his madcap one-man breakaways that he became famous for.
“I would love to be a sprinter – one of those guys who just sits in the pack all day adjusting the gel in his hair and then blows by everyone in the last 20 metres. But I can’t. I’ve got to do it the other way, the hard way.”
Born and brought up just inside the old East Germany, Jens Voight’s route to a professional cycling career was via the army. He recalls having to put on a uniform once a month to do guard duty during his four years or so of service but otherwise was free to train and cycle.
After the fall of the Berlin wall, he had difficulty in finding a pro team, eventually getting a contract with the ZVVZ Giant team in Australia, who then recommended him to Crédit Agricole. One can only assume that his native German team – Telekom – later regretted not even responding to his application to join them.
International Herald Tribune and New York Times journalist Samuel Abt first interviewed Jens Voight in the 1999 Tour de France race and believed that Voight had overcome many setbacks in his career. Yet he always displayed his humour – which became famous in the peloton – and was always ready to try again.
For Jens Voight it wasn’t just “Shut Up Legs”
This was a view confirmed by his former team mate Chris Boardman who remembers not just the humour but how Voight saw everything as an adventure and would not be put off by anything negative.
Just tear all those guilty riders out of the shadows and burn them!
Voight’s oft-quoted view on the Operation Puerto affair that saw the demise of his then team leader Ivan Basso adds perspective to “The Descent” by Thomas Dekker that we reviewed recently as Basso and Dekker were two of the cyclists who had been clients of Dr Fuentes.
I found the section where Jens Voight describes the latter stages of his career particularly interesting. After a professional career of 17½ years, he wanted to finish with his head held high. But in the Tour of California in May 2014, it didn’t matter how much he uttered his “Shut Up Legs” mantra, he had to recognise that he was no longer strong enough to be where he wanted in the race.
He was lucky enough to thrill his many fans one more time. To find out how, and what he achieved, you’ll have to read the book. You won’t regret buying it, it’s as exciting as watching Jensie on a long distance solo breakaway!