The Glory of Jens Voigt

The WSJ has a nice write up about why people love Jens Voigt—the long and short of it is this—Jens has an incredible ability to suffer and who doesn’t respect that?

But Voigt is cycling’s beloved superfreak, a cult object on two wheels. Cycling fans can be combative—they will argue about riders, teams, doping charges, seat angles, handlebar tape, frame materials, the coffee, and then the handlebar tape some more—but Jens is a rare point of agreement. Everybody loves Jens.

Voigt is adored because he rides a bike like it’s his last day on it. He is full gas, always. A race like the Tour de France can be maddeningly conservative—riders at the top of the standings watch each other, cover attacks, avoid risks, do just enough to cling to their position.

But Jens? Jens pummels the race. He rides like he’s fleeing a bank heist. He rides like he’s got a paper route with 100,000 papers. Voigt on a bike is a boxing match—relentless, confrontational, jabbing, punching, attacking.

Over his long career, Voigt has won big races, including Tour stages. But that’s not why he recently got 40,000 followers in a couple days after opening his Twitter account, or why there’s a website with Chuck Norris-type tributes. (“Sharks have a Jens Voigt Week.”)

It’s Voigt’s suffering that clinches his popularity. Cycling fetishizes pain—the more agony a rider can withstand, the more his or her legend grows. Voigt is a beautiful sufferer, sometimes a comical one. “Shut up, legs!” he’s known to bark when the agony begins. (It’s become his catch phrase, his “Make My Day.”) Stories about Voigt’s grit are abundant. The time he rode two stages of the Tour of California with a broken hand. The time he crashed, destroyed his own bike and had to borrow a tiny yellow kid’s bike with toe clip pedals to finish the race.