Jens. To those that know, it is self-explanatory. To those that don’t, it means nothing. One of the classic characters of professional cycling rode his last race Sunday, and the world of sport lost a huge personality. He was the old man of the sport, the wily veteran, a Hardman as they say in cycling. Jens was never the fastest, the strongest, the most gifted rider, but he was one of the toughest men to ever ride in the pro peloton. The guy has spent all his adult life on a bike, and the last 10+ years entertaining fans across the globe both on the bike and in quotes. “Shut Up Legs” is a go to phrase in the cycling world.
For all his one liners (there is even an app for that), all those days hauling teammates to victories, to the countless breakaways that failed, and even the handful that stuck, the crashes and chases, Jens has been a source of inspiration. The physical achievements on the bike started it, but it has been the “wisdom of Jens” that has struck a lasting chord. The 90 second clip he did in the spring of 2014 for Bicycling Magazine has stayed with me and it summarizes some of the timeless lessons of life, in that quirky way that is classic Jens, he said so much.
– Believe in yourself, have confidence beyond reason. To really achieve you have to take the chance, and it is that risk, that fear of failure, that all too often is the insurmountable barrier.
– There are no short cuts. Hard work, Dedication, Discipline and Self-Sacrifice. There is no other way but to grind, to do what is painful and to keep doing it. We are surrounded by the ideal of “work smarter not harder”, but in the end even smart work is work. If you are going to do the work, do it and give it your all.
– Remember who got you to the top, you will see them all again on the way back down. Life is so very much easier when you are nice. Be nice to others and surround yourself with positive people.
Throughout his career Jens was renowned for going in the break. Rarely in professional cycling does the breakaway ever survive. However, sometimes it does. Not often, but sometimes. And therein rested one of the great Jens quotes: “If you go (with a break), you can either win or not win. If you don’t go for it, you definitely won’t win.” Jordan and Gretzky spoke of how they could only score by taking the shots…they missed many more than they made. You have to believe you will succeed.
Jens has literally made a career out of working hard. It brought him wins on the road and countless contracts and sponsorship opportunities, the respect of his peers and teammates, and the adoration of fans around the world. He is savvy enough that he will parley his reputation as a hard worker and source of great quotes into what is sure to be a very lucrative broadcasting and speaking career.
Above all else, Jens has always been nice. It is that affable, self-deprecating humor and honesty that really sets him apart. He made time for others, was positive and upbeat, and clearly enjoyed the time with fans. Having seen it first hand more than once, the guy is absolutely mobbed before a race. He takes the time for pictures like the one below back in 2008 (I was manning the camera that day), for a quick chat, for an autograph and a smile. And after a stage, you could always count on a Jens interview. He might be smoked from the road, but he would give some sort of quote, a quick interview and usually some quirky comment about suffering and being too old.
As a fan, it will not be the same with Jens not in the peloton. However, I am pretty confident we will see and hear a lot from him in the coming years. The guy is tailor-made for color commentary. Old Jensie has been one clever dude, taking a folksy, German, blue-collar, hard worker, affable character into an international brand. That takes some smarts. Well done, or as they say in cycling, chapeau!