WITH JAMES STARTT
This engaging autobiography follows the career of cycling hero Jens Voigt through nearly twenty years at the top of the sport. The popular German rider retired from professional cycling in 2014 – but not before breaking the world hour record at the veteran age of forty-three. Voigt is known for pushing himself hard and succeeding against the odds: his specialism was the one-man breakaway. All his most famous racing antics are recounted in the book, which also covers more general aspects of life as a cyclist: team dynamics, training, injuries and crashes, contracts, tactics and the shadow of doping. Several of the chapters discuss more unusual themes for a sporting memoir such as the unification of Germany, which changed the course of Voigt’s career.
When the Wall came down, Voigt was seventeen years old and training at the national sports academy in East Germany. As he explains, the opening of the border brought new possibilities but swept away existing guarantees. Elite athletes in East Germany were funded and housed by the state. After the fall of the Wall, Voigt had the opportunity to look for a place on a professional team anywhere in the world, but his financial security disappeared. He spent the next four years in the German army, waiting to be signed by a professional team. His first contract took him to Australia, the second to France, and then to Team CSC where he helped teammate Carlos Sastre to victory in the Tour de France.
Voigt himself was not light enough to be a serious contender for the Tour, but over the course of his career he won sixty-five other races and gained a huge following because of his can-do approach to riding: famously, after crashing during a race he rode 15 km on a kid’s bike until his team supplied a full-size replacement, and one of his legendary breakaways saw him cycling 140 km on his own while the rest of the peloton tried unsuccessfully to chase him down. Voigt’s exuberance is not limited to his activities on the bike, and ‘Shut up Legs’ is written in his enthusiastic conversational style. As he observes, part of his international appeal lies in his ‘funny German accent’ and his voice can clearly be heard in the text, which he wrote in English with the help of journalist James Startt. An entertaining read for anyone interested in sport.
Ebury Press, 2016, 256 pp.