For the uninitiated, Jensie is a rider whom cycling commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen would describe as “a strongman of the peloton.” As such, it is unsurprising that he braved the freezing temperatures, gale-force winds, and mountains of snow to reach Landry’s Bicycles in Boston on Sunday Feb. 15 and be interviewed by Richard Fries in front of a full house. Bike store. Whatever. In fact, Jens was spotted on twitter visiting the local zoo and gleefully doing Boston things while most of us were huddled at home riding out the snow.
Though the complimentary beer (thanks Landry’s!) may have dulled my perception slightly, Fries and Voigt took us on a fantastic journey through his origins and career that ended, fittingly, with his breaking of the hour record in September 2014. I say fittingly because the hour record is the ultimate measure of endurance and willpower on two wheels – how many meters can a human being cover in 3600 seconds of suffering? A history of the hour record isn’t the main topic here, what matters is that recently the UCI rules were eased to allow use of upright bicycles with modern aerodynamics, rather than the classic steel bicycle of Eddie Merckx’s vintage. Jens’ record only lasted 43 days but he’s kicked off a flurry of other attempts by time trial specialists that will include big names such as Sir Bradley Wiggins and Tony Martin.
In the question & answer session that followed, attendees asked Jens questions such as the origins of his catchphrase “Shut up legs!” and doping, but what seemed to intrigue Voigt was the topic of sporting idols. He’d already discussed his upbringing in East Germany with Fries, and such as it was he related to another athlete from behind the Iron Curtain – Emil Zátopek. I’d embarrassingly never heard of Zátopek (at least I knew who Roger Bannister is) but the comparisons Jens drew run pretty deep. Both athletes were renowned for their suffering and willpower, which lent them success in several disciplines. Zátopek is known for winning the 5k, 10k and marathon at the 1952 Olympics, a feat that has never been replicated. Meanwhile Jens has held GC jerseys, wearing two maillots jaunes at le Tour, won stages, and obviously beat the hour record on the track. Both are known for a pained style, belying their speed.
Before that Sunday my motivation to keep riding was really flagging, but hearing Jens speak and seeing a bunch of my cycling people for the first time in months has really inspired me to train more. I only went on the indoor trainer once or twice between mid-November and February, but now I’m going to take up something resembling a plan to prepare for when the snow melts in April, as Boston is estimating with its Southie one-way street plan. I’m not one for hero worship, but it looks like I may have met my new cycling idol.