Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Cycling's Big Heart

When Mr. M came home from the library the other day, he handed me a book, saying "I thought you might enjoy this."

Shut Up Legs! by Jens Voigt (with James Startt)

Those of you who follow professional cycling, or regularly watch the Tour de France, will immediately recognise the name (and probably the voice) of Jens Voigt. For those of you who don't: Jens is a retired professional cyclist, also a happy husband and proud father of six. Born in East Germany, he competed as an amateur for his country before turning professional in 1997. Over the course of his career, he started 17 times in the Tour de France, and rode in countless other world tours and stage races, winning several, but more often playing a supporting role to help his teammates win. He closed his cycling career at the age of 43 by setting a world cycling record of riding 51.11 km (37.76 miles) in one hour.

Jens is a warm, funny, articulate guy, with a gift for saying the unexpected. His voice comes through clearly in his memoir.

On the long hours spent in hotel rooms between race stages:
I’m really good at falling asleep in the afternoon. I’m actually world-class when it comes to taking naps.
On food and drink in various countries:
I don’t know how they do it, but in Italy, even the gas stations have awesome coffee. France was just the opposite.
On sports and friendship:
- One of the great things about cycling is all the great friends you meet out on the road.
- Those days, when I was able to really turn myself inside out for the team, for my friends, go down as some of the greatest moments of my life. I was just enormously proud!
On working through the years of doping scandals:
- If you think that you’re always getting beat by drug cheats, then why continue racing? ….[T]hose of us who wanted to race with dignity had to focus on the positive. We had to believe that winning clean was possible.
- Perhaps I could have won more big-time races if I had cheated [doped], but my life would have been much more stressful. My career would have become this maddening cycle of lies and the constant fear of getting caught…. I was always satisfied in knowing that I had achieved the maximum results possible with my natural talent and work ethic.
On his first major crash, in the 2009 TdF:
[T]he next thing I remember is waking up in my hospital bed at about 10:30 that night…. slowly, piece by piece, I started moving different body parts…. after that very painful process, I understood that nothing was broken beyond repair. And from that point on, it was just a matter of time before I was back.
On kindness from rivals after crashing again in the 2010 TdF:
They waited for me, slowing down and looking back over their shoulders to make sure I was still on their wheels…  There is Cav, a 2-million-dollar superstar of our sport, risking elimination from the biggest race in the world to slow down and wait for a beat-up, tired, hurting guy whom he probably didn’t even know all that well. He and his teammates saved my day by making their own day harder…. To make it even more impressive, there was no TV crew around to capture this display of fairness and camaraderie…. Little stories like these are seldom told and make the beauty of sport, the beauty of cycling, to me. The surprising and unexpected moments of humanity among rivals is what, to me, is so precious about sports.
On money:
Maybe I could have become richer … by being more tenacious or by changing teams more often. But I’ve always been happy with where I’ve been, and as a professional cyclist I’ve basically been happy with the amount of money I’ve been making at any given time…. because when it comes to money, I have always been of the mind that if I’m making enough, why do I need more? It’s like, how many beds do you need to sleep in?
On balancing career and life:
- If you dedicate yourself to achieving perfection, you probably won't have time to go fishing.
- Family was always important to me. Cycling was not my only priority. I also wanted to be a good dad, a good friend, and a good husband.... I come from the country. I come from a simple life, and I always wanted to keep life as simple as possible. Start out simple, because life will get complicated enough by itself.
On popularity:
I don’t have brilliant earrings. I don’t have tattoos. I don’t have a Porsche or Ferrari in my garage. It’s just me. I didn’t grow up in a materialistic culture. Yet maybe that’s what connects.
If you haven't already figured it out, I'm loving this book. There've been so many "Yes!" moments in it for me. He seems like a kindred spirit. I like his attitude towards money, his desire for a simple and balanced life, his loyalty to his friends, his generosity to his rivals, and his outspokenness. I admire his willingness to sacrifice himself for his team members (rather than expecting everyone else to sacrifice themselves for him).

Here is what the English-speaking world's most famous cycling commentators had to say about Jens during Stage 10 of the 2008 TdF:

Phil Liggett: “That man is worth twice his salary, I don’t care what you say, for a team. He’s brilliant….”

Bob Sherwen: “Well, Jens Voigt will go until he drops, he’s that kind of rider. He rides on stomach, he rides on guts, and his heart, I think, is twice as big as anybody else’s here this afternoon....”

Here's one last quote from Jens himself:
As you get older, you come to realize that sports, like life, are not just all about me, me, me! It's not just about winning, winning, winning. And in bicycle racing, you start asking yourself, "Okay, how can I improve the status of the team? How can I help my friend to win?"
What a great attitude, and great read, from a truly great cyclist. Thanks, Jensie.

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