Shut up legs! Today 43-year-old German cyclist Jens Voigt said it for the last time, as he challenged the 8-year-old cycling record for riding the farthest distance in one hour. The current record of 30.9 miles (49.7 kilometers), belonging to Ondrej Sosenka of the Czech Republic, was clearly in danger. Other cycling legends have held the honor, including Miguel Indurain and Eddy Merckx, but at the end of today the ultimate record belongs to Jens Voigt, who rode a distance of 51.115 km (31.76 miles) in 60 minutes.
Voigt was required to cover 199 laps in 60 minutes to beat the record, which he smashed in making 205 circuits. In the last few minutes he was repeatedly up out of the saddle, sprinting, going all out in typical Jens Voigt style. The 199 laps were surpassed with 1:50 left to go, and the bike continued to sweep around the steep oval, a quick wiping of sweat from the face the only movement visible on the bike other than churning legs. As he crossed the finish line Voigt raised a triumphant fist, then waved at the crowd. As he was helped from his bike, hardly able to stand, he smiled broadly.
The hour record is simply defined as the farthest distance ever ridden on a bike in exactly one hour. The record is took always set in a velodrome, an oval track with steeply banked sides. The bike and the rider’s position must be legal under the Union Cycliste Interationaele (UCI). Innovative equipment or positions that are too stretched out are not allowed. Riders start from a dead stop, feet already in pedals, held upright until the gun goes off.
Today’s record attempt took place in the Swiss National Velodrome in Grenchen. Its 250-meter wooden track is considered the fastest in Europe. Trek streamed the event live on its website. Earlier today Voigt said he had to be careful not to start out too fast. He apparently accomplished this, as he was able to speed up in last five minutes, no doubt telling his entire body to shut up as his average speed increased with every lap. It was becoming apparent with about 15 laps to go that he would break the record, at which time the only question was by how much.
It is called “the longest hour” for a reason. Eddy Merckx described it as the ultimate test of both mind and body. Merckx stated that it is not possible to compare the hour on the track with a time trial on the road. There is no possibility of easing up, changing gears or rhythm. It is a total effort on a bike with no brakes and a single gear, bike and rider alone with no outside distractions. Pacing and concentration is key. Merckx said nothing could happen to throw off the rhythm, the rider afraid to move or blink, anything that might break the focus and mean the difference in success and failure.
Ken Harris, a racer from New York City who previously held the masters 40-45 age group world record for the one-hour ride, described the experience as “relentlessly painful.” He said that it is very hard not to lose heart in the middle of the ride, where he found the period between 30 and 45 minutes to be the most difficult. Editor of Velonews Neal Rogers described the ride as purity: man against clock, no wind, no hills, an all-out effort that is both a mental and physical challenge. Rogers said that although it is only 60 minutes it might as well be eternity. Boredom is always a factor, without variation to hold the rider’s attention.
Other than “shut up legs” Voigt is known for solo attacks and lengthy breakaways that have sometimes resulted in success in major race stage wins and sometimes in doomed bonks as his body shut down too soon. Voigt never quit. One time he crashed and wrecked his bike, but continued the race on a child’s junior bike taken from the crowd. A fan favorite, his career spanned nearly two decades in 35 different countries. Shut up legs! was frequently found written in chalk or paint on the steepest inclines of races in the U.S. and Europe.
Voigt officially retired at the end of the summer, following the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado. Before today’s record attempt he was asked if there would be any comebacks, or future attempts on the one-hour cycling record if he was unsuccessful today. The response: “No way in hell my friend. I squeezed every little bit of energy and motivation out of myself. I’m done.” Shut up legs. Jens Voigt, fierce competitor, has finally finished, and gone out in style.
Commentary by Beth A. Balen