We’re lucky to be cyclists. I could write pages on the benefits of cycling, but today it’s all about the heros. It’s hard to think of other sports where you can get up close and personal with the big names. No barriers. No Security. Amazing.
I was lucky enough to ride with one of my all time heroes. The almighty Jens Voigt. Shut up legs.
It’s a big moment knowing that you’re about to meet a legend. Someone that you have watched on television for years. Read all the interviews, seen the photos. A leader of the Pro-Peloton. A hero.
So when the call came in that I was invited to ride with the 2015 Tour de Cure, from Victoria’s costal town of Warrnambool to Melbourne with Jens I almost passed out with excitement. As I recovered I started thinking what was this going to be like. What can I talk about, what will Jens really be like? Then the nerves… someone once said to me ‘never meet your heroes, you’ll be disappointed’.
I’ll tell you now, they were wrong.
Arriving in Warrnambool, I’m unpacking an setting up my bike, checking it over to make sure it’s all ready for an early start… from behind me I hear in a strangely familiar German accent, ‘wow, that’s a really nice bike. Nice and clean. And those wheels, they are fast, no?’ That’s how I first met Jens. We talk for a few minutes about wheels, frames and bikes then he’s off.
It hit me instantly. Jens is just a normal guy that loves bikes. riding them, looking at them, meeting people that ride them. I could have been talking to anyone.
Over dinner Jens tells us about his hour record….’The first 15 minutes is fine. Then you get to half way and I’m like, oh my god I have to do this for another 30 minutes. So you keep going. The last 10 minutes it terrible. The last 7 worse, 5 to go and your body is screaming. Last 2 and 1 are just pain’. We ask him how he gets through the pain, his response is almost another ‘Shut up legs’ moment. ‘I just take it and put it over there (motioning that he’s moving it away from him) and continue to ride’. The mental strength to do that is astounding.
The hour record is not to be underestimated. It’s a ‘long’ and painful hour. Jens could not walk for days after the record and took weeks to recover. Others have had to be lifted from their bikes. It’s amazing how professional athletes can focus so much intensity and energy into one hour. It’s like an explosion. It shows the power Jens has, that since he took on the 'hour' there's literally a line of pros wanting to take it on. Jens, still leading the pack even in retirement.
On the bikes the next morning we’re in a group of roughly 25 riders for our 180km ride to Apollo Bay. Jens looks like he’s cruising, I ask him if this is easy for him, ‘I have not ridden many days back to back so my legs are hurting’. Not the answer I expect, and shows how modest he is.
We go on to talk about post cycling activities… incase you’re wondering Jens is a keen fisherman. He’s doing a lot of travel, heading off to the Tour of California from Australia and basically has back to back events. He’s also hooked on Twitter, unlike some celebrities that have their social media ‘managed’ I can confirm that Jens is personally super active on Twitter and Facebook. Brilliant.
We reach a nice climb on the Great Ocean Road that’s a few kilometres long. The group spreads out and I decide to give it a nudge. As I’m riding along giving it some effort thinking I’m alone, I hear ‘Hey Mike, do you want to get a selfie of me sucking your wheel’. While I would have loved to I was not in the physical state to. Shame. We take in the rest of the climb together. Amazing.
At the top I ask Jens if he finds high speed descending scary, considering he’s had close to 100 crashes in his career, and a couple that almost cost him his life. In typical Jens style he thinks for a few seconds before he comes up with, ‘you must not be controlled by fear, but is is ok to respect the fear’. Classic and true.
We chat more, Jens admits that he thinks that some non professional cyclists descend at speeds far beyond their bike handling skills. Most of the time they get away with it but all it takes is one small error at speed and there is big trouble very quickly.
Having been involved in a car versus bike while coming down a hill, I’m now more cautious than I was… having moments of being controlled by fear. On the next sweeping fast descent the pack rolls past me, as I start to sit up I feel a hand on the middle of my back accompanied with ‘stay relaxed, feel the road’. We pick up speed effortlessly catching the group, taking perfect lines through the corners, no brakes needed, before perfectly rolling up to the back of the group, again with no brakes needed. Jens manages all this with one hand helping guide me the entire way down.
It’s a masterclass in descending for me and shows the skill that the pros have. It’s an amazing few minutes that I’ll never forget.
So what’s Jens Voigt like? He’s a legend, a good guy and a genuine credit to the sport. Someone who simply loves to ride.