Scott Marion | Intelligencer
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EDWARDSVILLE — Jens Voigt may be retired as a professional bicycle rider, but he’s hardly living a life of leisure.
The 48-year-old German cyclist, who retired in 2014 after an 18-year pro career, made a stop on Thursday night at the Cyclery, 2472 Troy Road. The stop in Edwardsville was part of a three-week promotional sponsored by Trek Factory Racing across the U.S. and Canada.
Appropriately, Voigt’s appearance in Edwardsville started on a bike on Thursday afternoon, as he led a group of cyclists on a 22-mile ride on some local trails.
Rides like the one Voigt took before his session at the Cyclery are not uncommon as he travels around the country to make personal appearances. He welcomes the opportunities, both as a way to see the community he is visiting and as a way to indulge his passion for cycling.
“I know that Edwardsville has its own Criterium race (in August) and there is some good cycling here,” Voigt said. “Riding a bike does magic to clear your head and it makes you happy and relaxed. You’ve got all this oxygen going to your brain and you listen to the birds singing.
“Honestly, you are a better person after a bike ride.”
Voigt made 17 starts in the Tour de France, putting him in a three-way tie for first place on the all-time list, and twice wore the yellow jersey as a stage leader. But he has been busier than ever after his retirement.
In addition to his promotional appearances for Trek, he provides color commentary for NBC Sports’ coverage of the Tour de France and the Tour of California. He also does work for other sponsors and several charities.
“My official title is global brand ambassador for Trek and things like this (at the Cyclery) are a big part of it,” Voigt said. “Trek supports the idea of not just selling bikes, but creating a community of cycling and making people happy about their bikes.”
Voigt’s appearance on Thursday night included autograph signings, a question-and-answer session and a meet-and-greet with more than 150 cycling enthusiasts.
David Parks, manager of the Cyclery’s Edwardsville store, was thrilled to have a visit from Voigt, whose social media presence includes 282,000 followers on Facebook and 245,000 followers on Twitter.
“To have Jens even in southern Illinois, let alone in Edwardsville and here in the Cyclery, is beyond all of our minds,” Parks said. “We’re ecstatic to see him come here.
“Jens is not only a Trek advocate but an advocate of the sport of cycling. He has a great personality and an amazing family life.”
Voigt’s schedule, including visits to many other countries, keeps him on the road for about 200 days a year. He and his wife live in Berlin and have six children, including re 23 and 19 and four daughters who are 15, 13, 11 and 8. “Already this year I’ve been once to Seattle, once to Australia after three weeks (in the U.S.), I’ll go back home for a while and then back to Australia,” Voigt said. “Then I’ll fly straight back to the U.S. for the Tour of California.
“For me personally, it’s very nice and I meet interesting people and see beautiful places, but it’s hard on the family. You see something that’s really interesting or cool or beautiful, but there’s no one to share the moment with.”
Throughout his racing career, Voigt was known for his aggressive riding style and his ability to overcome pain, which led to his now-famous “Shut Up Legs” quote.
In a 2008 interview with a Danish TV station, Voigt said “When my legs hurt, I say ‘Shut up! Do what I tell you to do!”
The phrase quickly caught on with cycling fans and in 2012, Voigt raced on a custom Trek bicycle emblazoned with “Shut Up Legs.” In 2014, his final season, he launched his own “Shut Up Legs” line of clothing and trademarked the phrase.
“When I said it, I never really thought much about it, but I saw a lady here tonight who showed up with a ‘Shut Up Legs’ sweatshirt, so even in the middle of the U.S., you see it,” Voigt said. “I don’t regret saying it because, on a small scale, it almost makes me immortal.
“When I’m gone, ‘Shut Up Legs’ can still be here because it works in every sport. I’m happy about that.”
One of the most memorable moments of Voigt’s career came on Sept. 18, 2014, when he broke the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) hour record, riding 51.110 kilometers in a hour, breaking the previous record of 49.7 kilometers.
Voigt is the oldest rider ever to beat the record, which was broken again on Oct. 30, 2014, by Austrian cyclist Matthias Brandle.
Voigt, who endured several serious crashes during his racing career, has had 11 broken bones, 25 needles and pins inserted in his body and more than 120 stitches.
“I still have a titanium screw (in his left wrist) and the index finger (on his right hand) is never going to be straight again,” Voigt said. “But I still consider myself lucky. It was not a pleasure cruise, but I would still do it again.
“Cycling gave me a chance to meet my wife and meet my best friends. It was a good journey.”
In 2015, Voigt’s first year in retirement, producers from NBC Sports contacted him to try out as a broadcaster. He has since become a fixture in the network’s racing coverage.
“In my last years as a professional athlete, I had to make plans for what I wanted to do next, and with six children to feed, you have to have a job,” Voigt said.
Voigt’s 17 appearances in the Tour de France were among the highlights of his professional career, but he would like to be remembered for other accomplishments, as well.
“Breaking the hour record in my last year as a professional cyclist was something that made me really proud and happy,” Voigt said. “I did win two stages of the Tour de France and I wore the yellow jersey two times and overall I had 65 professional wins.
“My biggest achievement, apart from cycling, is having six happy, healthy children with my wife. She’s my first and only wife and we’re still together.”