Jens Voigt is a former professional cyclist known for his aggressive riding style and fun personality. His storied career includes three Tour de France stage victories, winning the Critérium International a record-tying five times, and breaking the UCI hour record by 1.410 kilometers, covering 51.110 kilometers in 60 minutes. Jens retired from competition in late 2014.
Jens is married to Stephanie, and together they have six children, Mark, age 19, Julian, 16, Adriana, 12, Kim Helena, 10, Maya, 7, and little Helen, 4. He lives with his family in Berlin. In addition to his native German, he speaks fluent French and English.
Here, Jens shares a little more about himself, in his own words.
How did you get your start?
I was born in a small town in the northern part of former East Germany, behind the iron curtain. After the wall separating East Germany from West Germany came down, I met my wife—she is from West Berlin, so believe me I’m very happy that wall came down!
To be perfectly honest, I was a troublemaker as a boy—I had way too much energy. One day the teachers came to my parents and said, “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Voigt, your son is too rambunctious. He needs to do some sport to burn off this extra energy.” Around that same time, the local bike team gave a presentation at my school, looking for new recruits. Imagine, you are a 10-year-old boy and somebody offers you a shiny, brand new bike free of charge—well, of course, I signed up! After three weeks of training, I entered my first race and won. I’ve been cycling ever since.
Where have you appeared or been featured?
I competed in the Olympic Games three times—Sydney, Australia in 2000, Athens, Greece in 2004, and Beijing, China in 2008. I participated a record number of 17 times in the Tour de France. I won 65 bike races throughout my career, and have been on around 20 cycling magazine covers. I’ve done countless interviews with radio and TV stations all over the world, and I’ve served as a race for NBC in the United States, ITV4 in England, SBS in Australia, and Eurosport in Germany, to name a few. I have also written columns for Bicycling.com and other cycling magazines.
How do you find your fit?
It was a big change for my body and my whole system when I stopped training and racing professionally after 33 years. On the one hand, it was a relief to no longer have to suffer, but I also felt as though my fitness was quickly going downhill. So after a much-needed break from exercising, I’m back at it—trying to maintain a healthy fitness level with a more casual routine of cycling, running, and strength workouts.
I don’t want to end up like one of those athletes who totally explodes when their professional career ends—you won’t see me doubling my bodyweight anytime soon. But I also realize I no longer need to be in competitive shape. My fitness level is healthy, and it’s exactly where I want it to be.
What is your most memorable achievement?
I’ve had some big achievements in my career—participating in the Tour de France a record 17 times, three stage wins in the Tour de France, two stage wins in the Giro d’Italia, and being part of the Tour de France winning team in 2008 with Carlos Sastre. I’ve had a total of 65 wins in 18 years of professional cycling—those were all big moments. But my best day on the bike was when I secured my friend Bobby Julich’s overall win in the 2005 Paris Nice race.
As we went into the last stage near Nice in southern France, my good friend Bobby was wearing the yellow leader’s jersey. With about 20 miles to finish line, Bobby and I were the only riders from our team left, and there were thirty other riders who wanted to take that jersey from him. I knew I was his last line of defense, and because he had helped me so many times before, sacrificing his races for me, I was ready to give it back to him. It was a challenge that I fully accepted—basically working alone, taking on the task of what should be carried by an entire team, to help him hold the lead and save his race day. I also knew it would mean so much to him, and for his wife and daughter who would be there at the finish.
We ended up on the podium together that day, and I saw his family almost in tears because they were so proud. I remember thinking to myself, “It doesn’t get much better than this. My hard work paid off—I really helped him earn his success.” For me, that was the most rewarding day I’ve ever had on a bike.
Why do you love Fitbit?
As I mentioned, I want to stay fit now that my professional career is over, and my Fitbit Surge is the perfect tool to help me do that. I wear my Fitbit Surge all the time—it measures my heart rate, counts my steps, and maps my runs. It seamlessly syncs with my computer, and I can connect with my Strava account and share my run experiences, too. I like that it’s easy to use and basically idiot-proof, which is always my weakness with technology. My Fitbit Surge is a robust piece of technology, and it looks pretty slick and smart on my arm.
What do you love most about your job or sport?
My sport has been good to me. Thanks to cycling, I met my wife and some of my best friends, like former pro Bobby [Julich] and Thor Hushovd from Norway, who, in addition to being a former world champion, was also the best man at my wedding.
What I like most about cycling is that, even with little talent, with hard work and determination you can achieve great things. There aren’t very many lucky wins—usually, the win goes to the rider who trained well and worked hardest. And we don’t have complicated rules in cycling. The only real rule is whoever crosses that white line first is the winner.
What are you most proud of?
That’s easy. It’s my six healthy, wonderful children!
What’s the best health or fitness advice you’ve ever received?
To train with intervals. Running or cycling at the same speed will only get you so far. If you want to become better, you have to “train high and recover low,” which means ride or run at a heart rate of 165 to 180 for a few minutes and then have at least twice the time for active recovery at a heart rate of around 110 to 120 beats per minute. The change of rhythm is the important thing—it gives your body the opportunity to perform better and work more efficiently.
And a tip for beginners: know your limits. Beginners want way too much, way to soon—it’s something I see all the time. You have to be realistic with yourself, start slow and stay in control. Otherwise, if you go all out, you risk having sore legs for days and getting all depressed, or seriously injuring yourself.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Never give up. As hopeless as a situation may seem, there is always a solution and a way out.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.