The Jensie, Jens Voigt talks about retirement, reflects on his professional career, professes his love for Colorado, and shares his enthusiasm for Napoleon Dynamite (2004) and Lindsey Vonn
By Kate Agathon
From Jens night in Denver at Campus Cycles November 21, 2022
Jens Voigt is surprisingly relatable.
He gets starstruck.
He listens to Metallica.
He considers it a good morning when he wakes up and his back and knees don’t hurt.
Now that he is no longer obliged to tell his legs to shut up, he tells his body to shut up instead. “I hate to admit it, but now I’m getting older. Now, instead of shut up legs, it’s shut up body!” exclaimed Voigt.
Voigt recently made a whirlwind trip to Denver, where he visited Campus Cycles and Primal.
On the same trip, he also made a quick stop in Arizona to participate in the El Tour de Tucson 2022 Prologue and tour ride along with Bob Roll, Kristin Armstrong, Christian VandeVelde, Bobby Julich, and George Hincapie.
During the last leg of his visit, the King of Breakaways himself stopped by Campus Cycles for VIP Night and took some time for an impromptu Tireside Chat.
The blessed state
Voigt has a thing for Colorado.
His favorite area to ride in is Durango, and he likes to watch American Flyers (1985). Most importantly, Colorado is where some of his most cherished pro cycling memories took place. “Colorado is a wonderful state! You guys are actually pretty blessed: great road biking, mountain biking, and hiking all in one place,” Voigt remarked.
Voigt’s professional cycling career spanned nearly two decades and took him around the world. However, he chose Colorado and the 2014 USA Pro Challenge for his final professional race. “It felt right to end my career here. Colorado has been good to me. It’s such a wonderful place!” said Voigt.
Voigt has many fond memories of Colorado. It’s the place where he went fly fishing with his Trek Factory Racing teammates. The place where he momentarily got starstruck when skiing legend Lindsey Vonn awarded him a lifetime ski pass to Vail/Beaver Creek for winning Stage 4 of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge.
And, the place where he shed some tears two years later while being awarded the Most Aggressive Rider jersey during his farewell tour at the 2014 USA Pro Challenge. “When I went on the podium during the prize-giving ceremony, they played a video with highlights of my career. I stood in front of 4000 people and it was so nice to feel all the hearts of the fans with me. It was so special!” Voigt reminisced.
Giving his farewell speech proved to be an overwhelming moment for him. “It was a very emotional moment. I cried for only the second time I can recall. The first time I cried was at the birth of my first child, so that underscores the importance of that moment. I was taught that grown men don’t cry, and here I was getting teary,” he revealed.
His other favorite Colorado memories both took place on August 23, 2012 when he won Stage 4 (Aspen to Beaver Creek) at the USA Pro Challenge and was congratulated by Vonn on the awards podium. “I have many good memories of Colorado. My favorites include the day I won Stage 4 and oh my God, meeting Lindsey Vonn!”
According to Voigt, “nobody would have bet a penny on me on Stage 4; not even my sport director. That breakaway over Independence Pass was amazing! Initially, I looked at the riders and the teams and thought that it would never work,” Voigt said. “Then I told myself, I’ll go solo and it will work. Since the director was a former colleague of mine, as a cyclist, he didn’t get to yell at me. But I could see that he just wanted to yell at me to go back in the group and work with them,” he continued.
Fortunately, Voigt took an early lead and stayed well ahead of the peloton.
Crossing the finish line with the peloton safely 3 minutes behind him, he won the grueling 97-mile climbing stage in just under four hours. “To make the day even more perfect, the prize was a lifetime ski pass for Vail/Beaver Creek, and Lindsey Vonn handed the prize to me. I was starstruck. Lindsey Vonn!” he said excitedly.
“She’s a legend of her sport, right? She has, what, 82-time World Cup wins in five disciplines, is a 4-time World Champion and Olympic Champion?! It was an amazing moment and a really good day,” he mused.
You won’t be seeing Voigt on the slopes anytime soon, though. While his family supports many of his endeavors, skiing is unfortunately not one of them. “I’m no expert at all, but it helps that I’m relatively fearless and I have strong legs so I could handle the skis. Unfortunately, my family doesn’t support skiing too much, so I don’t have much of a chance to go,” he sighed.
The pro years
A 17-time Tour de France participant, Voigt is a master storyteller who can recall moments from a dozen years ago with enthusiastic ease.
From spectator stories to Lance Armstrong, to super fans and friends in the peloton, the discussion inevitably turned to his years as a professional rider.
Although he retired in 2014, the affable former hour record holder still maintains his own global cult following. He shared with us some of his most memorable moments.
Look, but don’t touch
If you’re ever fortunate enough to get close to the peloton riding by, take some friendly advice from Voigt: whatever you do, don’t pat a rider on the back. “What often happens with overexcited fans is that they tap you on the shoulder and say ‘Hey, let’s go, let’s go!’ That is good one or two times. But 400 times you are tapped on your shoulder for encouragement- that hurts!” exclaimed Voigt. “Every fan thinks they’re the only ones tapping you on the shoulder. If the first one claps as you start to climb, and the last one does it half a mile to go on the finish line, you don’t like it anymore. It’s painful!” he explained.
Voigt maintained that “99.5 percent of the time, it was just encouraging and fantastic to have the fans so close to him,” as he listed a couple of other memorable fan moments. During his last season riding in the Tour Down Under, he was offered a beer by some enthusiastic locals after he dropped his leaders in the last climb. “So I’m just out there by myself like not in front anymore, and not in the peloton but in the middle. And there’s a group of three young men running next to me. ‘Hey, Jens! You look so thirsty! Do you want a beer?’ They just handed me a beer, I took it, cracked it open, had a sip, and passed it back to them. It was great!” he said.
Another fan moment happened during a Tour de France. He had just dropped off the Schleck brothers and found himself riding alone. “I’m dropped all by myself trying to recover a little bit because there was another week to go, and suddenly I hear this male voice yelling ‘Jens! I love you! I want your baby!’ I looked up, and it was a 55 year-old-man with a belly like that and a beard like that. And he just continued, ‘Jens, I love you and want your child!’ “It was so funny. I just had to laugh and wave at him. And the few people in the crowd who understood German laughed too. To this day I still laugh my head off when I think about it,” smiled Voigt.
The unbelievable ride
One memorable crash happened in the 2010 Tour de France. On Stage 16, Voigt crashed hard on a downhill and found himself with an inoperable bike. His team car with his spare bike was nowhere to be seen (it was ahead with race leader and teammate Andy Schleck), and Voigt had to do something to stay in the tour. Injuries notwithstanding, the determined Voigt found his saving grace. “I looked over and saw a car with children’s bikes on top (the Tour de France has a children’s motivation program, he explained). I said, ‘Hey, can I have one of those bikes? I really want that bike!” he stated.
A grateful Voigt took the undersized bike (complete with toe clips and junior gearing) and rode the remainder of the approximately 20-mile descent on the unlikely replacement. Later, he was able to get his own bike from the team car and successfully complete the stage. At present, he is the only professional cyclist to have ridden a child’s bike in the Tour de France.
On Fabian and Tom
According to Voigt, the best wheel to draft in the peloton was teammate Fabian Cancellara, whom he described as a “good bike handler and a great, gifted descender.” “He (Fabian) always knew where he wanted to go, had broad shoulders, and didn’t often crash. And people always gave him space! If you found yourself on his wheel, it was the safest place ever,” he stated.
Voigt’s toughest adversary was Tom Boonen. “I must say Tom Boonen was a pretty hard fighter and it was always tough to race against him. He just wouldn’t give up! You’d think you got him, or he didn’t look good that day, and yet he would still be there. He was always there!” Voigt exclaimed.
And of course, there was Lance Armstrong.
Voigt remains the only rider whom Armstrong ever approached twice to ride with his team.
“The first time he asked me, I said ‘Um Lance. I don’t know. I love you, you’re a great cyclist, and you win the Tour de France. But whatever goes on over there, no, I don’t want to be part of that.’ I was happy where I was,” said Voigt. A few years later, Armstrong approached him again. “He even said to me, ‘You know, I don’t ever ask twice. Normally, once I get turned down, I don’t ask again.’ And I replied, ‘No, I don’t see myself joining your team.’ and that was it,” he said.
Turning down Armstrong, Voigt knew he was saying no to a lucrative million-dollar contract. He opted instead for a long career, a clear conscience, and a smaller paycheck. “When he asked me to join his team, I had to make a conscious decision. I decided to have a smaller career. I never had a ranch in Texas or a private jet, but I had a long and happy career,” he said.
The magic hour
In 2014, Voigt had one last goal in mind before retiring: an attempt at the UCI hour record at the Velodrome Suisse. One month after his final race at the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado, Voigt rode 51.115km (the equivalent of more than 204 laps) and into the record books.
Pumped by the sounds of Metallica and AC/DC (Voigt loves rock music, and Trek actually shared his music playlist for the big event), he became the first rider to break 50 km and break the previous record of 49.700 km set in 2005. “That was one of the hardest events in my career. If my bike had broken down, or the track had a problem, I probably would never have tried again,” said Voigt.
He maintained that riding at the “highest possible level” for an hour is the worst pain he has ever endured.
Fortunately, in the final few laps, he knew he had the record. That knowledge (and his epic playlist) kept him going. “My entire body was screaming at me, ‘Stop it, stop it I can’t do it anymore!’ My elbows hurt from holding the position. My neck hurt from holding my head down in position. “The place where I sit hurt like hell. My feet hurt because my shoes were tied up as much as possible. Every part of my body was in immense pain! I was so glad once it was over!” he said.
Now 51 years of age, Voigt is enjoying retirement.
He co-hosts the Bobby and Jens podcast with friend and former teammate Julich, he geocaches, goes for morning runs, and he has time to watch the occasional film (Napoleon Dynamite 2004 is a particular favorite: “Feel free to laugh at my expense, but I can’t stop watching it! It’s my guilty pleasure!”).
Finally, he can indulge in his favorite food, a German dish called Schweinshaxe. Paired with potatoes, sauerkraut, mashed peas, and a liter of beer, the slow-cooked pork knuckle is a meal Voigt always looked forward to on the first day of the off-season. Thankfully, his retirement allows him to indulge in his favorite meal more often. “Schweinshaxe is delicious! It has a bazillion calories, is heavy, and is poisonous for everything in your body, but it is delicious! You cannot have too much of it!” he enthused.
Ice cream rides
Retirement also affords Voigt the luxury to spend time with his wife, Stephanie, and their six children.
To his relief, so far none of his children have dropped him on a ride. He said, “By the law of nature, it will happen one day and I’m not sure how I will react! I’m always afraid to get that little sting in my heart when I have to tell myself that I am now officially old because my kid has dropped me.”
Voigt maintained that since he’s no longer training for the Tour de France, he rides a lot less. Casual rides (he likes to use his wife’s e-bike) of just two or three hours with friends to an ice cream shop in the summer are more his style these days.
In recent years, the man whose total mileage during his entire professional career (racing and training) totaled 850,000 KM (roughly from Denver to the moon, back to Denver, and halfway up again) has only biked “… a shockingly little number. Like really little.”
He’s also easing into middle age with no pressure to set records, cycling or otherwise, of any kind. “Believe me you’re still alive after reaching 50 years,” said Voigt. “Everything functions like before, but it is a scary/funny moment because it is a big number, right? But I’m still alive and kicking and my kids and family are great, so this stage in my life is really enjoyable,” he concluded.
The best tour meal ever.
Voigt’s favorite tour meal was when he was riding for CSC-Tiscali. In 2008, CSCI- Tiscali’s Carlos Sastre won the Tour de France. Described by Voigt as “…the best meal ever!”, the team’s celebratory meal consisted of Japanese Kobe beef, truffled mashed potatoes, and red wine.
Favorite bike of all time?
“I would say my very first Trek 2011. It was a Madone model of that period. Even today, I still think it was the perfect combination of stiffness, handling, stability, comfort, and aerodynamics. It ticked all the boxes and was a really, really nice bike!”