SHUT UP LEGS!
Author: Jens Voigt
Publisher: Ebury Press
Date: 12/5/17 & 7/9/17
Format: Hardback / Paperback
Price: £16.99 / £8.99
Reviewed by Richard Peploe
Many a pro rider would welcome a career like Jens Voigt’s: whilst it was not without its setbacks, he got a lot right. Equally, many fans enjoy following riders like ‘Jensie’ in the peloton, which should mean a ready market for his biography.
Jens Voigt won plenty of races, but he realised that he was not a rider who would consistently win at the highest level; instead he found reliable employment as a ‘domestique’, putting himself at the service of the team leader to help him win the biggest races.
Of course, the pro peloton is full of riders like that, so what set Voigt apart from the others? The answer is his ‘brand’. He is one of the few riders that acquired one short nickname, ‘Jensie’ – although this may in part be down to the difficulty that many had in pronouncing his surname. This notoriety was backed up with a memorable catchphrase, ‘Shut up legs’, which inevitably became title of his biography.
You could argue that the highlight of Voigt’s career was the successful execution of his retirement plan: taking a leaf from former team-mate Chris Boardman’s career, he decided to finish with an attack on the Hour record. It so happened that the rules had just changed, reducing the restrictions on the bike that could be used.
The first decent rider to tackle the record under the new rules would be highly likely to get the record, which Voigt duly did - despite not being a renowned time-triallist. I doubt that anyone would begrudge Voigt his moment of fame: he took advantage of the opportunity that presented itself, and precipitated a flurry of other successful attempts.
After that he was able to exploit his reputation to have continued employment as a commentator, brand ambassador, charity worker – and he even qualified as a team director, should he wish to follow many other retired riders into that career.
There are some aspects of Voigt’s career that pro riders would hope not to emulate, such as the crashes. Minor injuries are a regular part of life in the peloton, but Voigt had a couple of big accidents that could have ended his career; instead, he ‘only’ has some bits of titanium holding him together as a reminder.
Whilst Voigt ended up with a worthwhile but unexceptional career as a professional rider, he took a slightly unusual route to get there: he witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall as a 17-year-old in East Germany, and was in the vanguard of riders benefitting from this new freedom. You won’t find many other cycling biographies covering that moment in history, and the story of a previous life behind the Iron Curtain.
As with any biography, if your book is to find success beyond the immediate fan base, it needs to cover more than your own life story. Voigt does this with some surprising insights in to life as professional rider.
I was surprised to see how far he got in his career on a diet of LSD (Long Slow Distance training), and only when he signed with the GAN team did he understand that “you’re not getting dropped because you can’t race for five hours at 42 kilometres an hour. You’re getting dropped because you can’t do 55 or 60 kph for 10 minutes.”
There is an interesting discussion on his weight management, especially in retirement: “I’m right now at my winter weight, the weight my body was trying to get to every winter, around 82 kg. I would start the season around 78 kg, and go down in the season to 77 kg.” He is now faced with the problem of preventing the weight gain being on a one-way ratchet, where it goes on as before, but he is not in the same position to work it off each year.
There are a few things that you won’t find in the book, and one is detailed accounts of all the races that Voigt did: once he had finished a race he normally went back to reading a book and switched off, just as you might with a normal job. “My approach does have its drawbacks. The problem for me was that I could never remember my races.”
Drug taking is mentioned a lot, as you would expect from any rider whose career covered a period with so much doping activity. However, Voigt seems to have been unaware of the extent of the doping culture at the time, which is not what I expected. I have no reason to doubt that Voigt himself was clean, but with so many riders around him now known to have doped, it surprises me that Voigt did not come across the activity more often.
Maybe it is easy to say with the benefit of hindsight, now that we have heard so much about drug taking in other rider’s biographies: you won’t get revelations and exposés here, but they are available from other retired riders if that is what you want.
American journalist James Startt is co-author of the book: I don’t know if that means Startt was a ghost writer, but if so he has done a good job in not over-polishing Voigt’s words. English is not Voigt’s first language, which is apparent in his use of the language, and I was pleased to see his style was still present in the writing: it is part of his brand! Sometimes this shows itself with a lot of UPPER CASE, many exclamation marks, and sometimes BOTH TOGETHER!!!
‘Shut up legs’ is the story of one of the peloton’s good guys, and reminds us why ‘brand Voigt’ is so popular.
The book first came out in May ’17, but has recently been joined by the paperback version for nearly half the price; eBook and audio versions are also available.