Jens Voigt: fan-powered.
Try naming a professional cyclist who’s more popular than Jens Voigt.
Superstars like Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali have a large following but it’s the 42 year old German who is the most popular man on a race bike by a wide margin.
Years ago, he opened a sizable popularity gap on the rest of the peloton and nobody else is even close to catching him.
Almost no other rider is so willing to spend time with fans signing autographs, telling stories and having a laugh. Perhaps some athletes might wonder why — making time for fans distracts from their mental focus, cuts into their recovery time.
They might even be a few minutes late for that bowl of pasta if they stop in the lobby to sign a kid’s jersey.
Yet there is Jens Voigt before and after every race from Europe to North America to Australia making a genuine and joyful effort to connect with fans.
He gives a lot back to the sport and here’s the bonus for Voigt: he gets a lot in return from fans.
Just as an example, here’s what he said after stage three of the Tour Down Under where he’d jumped in his first breakaway of the year: ”I might be getting old but I still have high expectations about myself. It’s because of self respect that I feel obliged to show my face to the people. I don’t want to be just a number in the bunch. On the road side, every second or third spectator yelled my name.”
If you wonder how at age 42 Jens Voigt still manages to attack and win stages, it’s because he’s fan-powered. They yell his name more than any other rider and that translates as extra motivation, power, speed, one last burst in the legs.
Voigt is the beneficiary of love watts. When every second or third spectator along the entire race route yells his name he’s energized by the collective will of the fans that push him along. It’s a sweet ride.
In effect, he has a chorus of thousands and thousands of vocal fans to repeat his signature mantra: “shut up legs.” It’s easier to ignore the lactic acid when their are so many friends for inspiration
In all this talk of sports science, nutrition and training methodology, it’s easy to overlook one simple way to ride faster: smile, have your photo taken with fans, tell a joke, share a moment.
That is the trick Jens Voigt has mastered. It’s not some fountain of youth; it’s giving back to the fans. They will always make him fly.