this past few days, i've been dipping in and out of the tv coverage of the giro d'italia, debating whether the racing interrupts my work or the other way round. as with all the grand tours, we and the riders are eased into the daily routine (you'll appreciate that the word eased has different relative meanings to both of the above), with many of the early climbs being those you and i could probably manage if push came to shove, though admittedly a lot slower.
most of the early parcours are thus relatively flat, the sort of enticing route that keeps the sprinters happy, long before they have need of forming a grupetto and hoping to survive until milan. the same situation often pervades both the tour de france and the vuelta; business as usual. the downside to this, over a distance of at least 100 kilometres, is less than stimulating viewing. yes, those distances are necessary, as part of the wearing down process to ensure that the entire peloton does not arrive at the finish line en-masse, though sometimes it looks as if that is indeed the case.
what is needed, at least in respect of the entertainment value, is at least one rider with the panache and bravado to hammer off the front with irritating persistance. someone like tommy voeckler, or maybe jens voigt?
the former is still very much a part of the contemporary peloton, having recently won the tour de yorkshire, but voigt retired at the end of the 2014 season and is a rider that will be missed, not least for those who were endeared of using the hashtag #shutuplegs. which, not entirely coincidentally, is the name of his autobiography published by ebury press today. whether simultaneously or not, the book is published in north america by bicycling magazine publishers, rodale, with whom voigt's confidant in this autobiography (james startt) is currently employed.
there is little doubt that jens voigt was one of the professional peloton's individual characters, a man who, either by necessity or preference (quite possibly a bit of both) displayed an eager predilection for making continuous breakaways from whichever peloton he happened to be a part. it's the sort of ability that many of us wished we possessed and many have tried feebly to emulate.
voigt is most definitely a talker, but perhaps not so much of a writer,
"I got nothing done because everywhere I went people said, 'Hello! How are you? ...so I had to talk to everybody in every store I went into for 15 or 20 minutes."
the collaboration comes across as one where jens talked a lot and james startt recorded and then typed a lot. it may also be the reason for the american spellings used throughout and the addition of the word 'super' in front of such as 'motivated', 'important' and 'excited'. however, even if shut up legs is the literary equivalent of jens sitting in your lounge for an evening or two, shooting the breeze, it's an enjoyable distraction for 231 pages.
born and raised in east germany before the wall came down, voigt had already shown promise as a cyclist, an ability that the east german athletic system had already recognised. "In East Germany, my life was pretty much spelled out for me. As long as I continued to perform and get results, I was treated as an elite athlete, a professional basically."
when the wall came down, however, voigt struggled to convince any professional teams to take a punt on signing a rider with a palmares that already included the world cup competition, the peace race as well as the commonwealth bank classic in australia. his big break and for which he informs us he is eternally grateful, came from gan team boss, roger legeay.
"...I came across the CV of rider I'd never heard of: Jens Voigt. And when I looked him up, I noticed that he was already one of the top-50 ranked riders in the world. I was dumbfounded! How does some unknown guy get into the top 50?"
the rest, as they say, is (recent) history.
as inferred from my opening paragraphs, you could pretty much always rely on voigt to get in an early breakaway, riding as if there was no such thing as a cunning plan. oddly enough, though the book contains a comprehensive index at the back, there is no sign of voigt's final palmares. the number of races won, often from one of those characteristic breakaways, can only be gleaned from the narrative.
if it doesn't sound too odd when in print, voigt comes across as every bit as friendly and approachable as his reputation would suggest. many of the chapters commence with views of jens from team-mates and managers met along the way. and it seems genuinely that no-one has a bad word to say about the man. there's also the distinct impression that voigt is secure enough in his own skin to have quoted the less than impressed should such an individual been found.
"Jens, quite simply, extended my career by two full years. By 1998, when he came on board with the GAN team, I was having a tough time. It was getting harder and harder to win anything. But when Jens came into the team, everything for him was an adventure, everything! It was brilliant."
he is very outspoken against the use of drugs in cycling, occasionally finding himself on the wrong side of pelotonic opinion, where his colleagues would apparently have preferred he kept his opinions to himself. and despite being mostly self-effacing and modest in both his claims and personality, chapter 22 came as somoething of a surprise. here he deals with the jensie phenomenon a level of fandom that i would have thought voigt might have treated as entertaining, but hardly one that might stroke an ego, one that to this point at least, had seemed commendably dormant.
"One day during the 2011 Tour of Colorado, I was in a big break, like a 12-man break, when out of nowhere, an official race car pulled up alongside of us, and suddenly baseball superstar Barry Bonds stuck his head out the window and yelled 'Go Jens! ...There were 11 Americans in the group, and Barry Bonds was yelling for Jensie!"
amassing 10,000 twitter followers in one hour seems to have turned his head more than this reader would have expected.
the above mention of baseball superstar barry bonds, along with a later comparison of the conjoining of leopard-trek with radio-shack nissan as being like merging "NBA's Dallas Mavericks with the Los Angeles Lakers" may be two instances that leave european readers none the wiser. though i've already mentioned this to be a book written by an american and published separately across the pond, it seems just a tad incongruous to feature americana in an autobiography of an east german bike rider. points such as this, for your truly at least, rather calls into question the pure definition of the word and concept of an autobiography.
that said, it's an admittedly superficial point that scarcely detracts from the entertaining nature of 'shut up legs'. the writing style is almost purely conversational and thus easy on the eye. even when describing what i assume jens views as his ultimate victory, the hour record, his approach manages to combine both intensity and levity simultaneously.
an enjoyable and lighthearted ride.
thursday 12 may 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................