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Jens Voigt and Proust

From issue 80 • Interview by James Startt w/illustration by Matthew Burton

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Jens Voigt raced professionally for 18 years before retiring in 2014 at age 43 by setting a new standard for the world hour record. He is one of the most colorful and popular cyclists in recent history and continues to entertain his fans as a frequent TV commentator. A passionate reader, Voigt is quick on the draw for utterly original sound bites. What better candidate for the Proust questionnaire than Mr. “Shut Up Legs” himself!

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Sitting at my terrace and doing nothing knowing that all my kids are around me.

What is your greatest fear? When I swim and the water gets all dark underneath me.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Impatience.

What is the trait you most deplore in others? False confidence and jealousy.

Which living person do you most admire? Sir David Attenborough.

What is your greatest extravagance? I am a member of a society for falconry.

What is your current state of mind? Stressed—six children, three dogs, one cat, seven rabbits and the mother-in-law in the house have this effect on me.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Sympathy.

On what occasion do you lie? If the peace of my surrounding environment depends on it.

What do you most dislike about your appearance? The way I walk.

Which living person do you most despise? Most politicians.

What is the quality you most like in a man? Honesty and determination.

What is the quality you most like in a woman? Multi-tasking.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “I am not just a pretty face!”

What or who is the greatest love of your life? My children.

When and where were you happiest? Out fishing and smoking a cigar, not catching anything and only watching the sunlight reflecting on the waves.

Which talent would you most like to have? Teleportation. If that doesn’t count, then playing the guitar.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would make myself more peaceful.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? My six wonderful children.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? A peregrine falcon.

Where would you most like to live? In a wooden cabin in Montana or Canada, living off the land, with two dogs, no TV and 1,000 books to read.

What is your most treasured possession? The watch I bought from my first paycheck—the first thing I bought for myself from my own money.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Waking up in the morning with the first thought being: “I hate my life!”

What is your favorite occupation? Fishing and reading.

What is your most marked characteristic? Talking too much.

What do you most value in your friends? That they dare to say no to me, and unconditional trust.

Who are your favorite writers? Jack London, Frank Schätzing [a German science-fiction writer] and Terry Pratchett [an English author of fantasy novels].

Who is your hero of fiction? Conan the Barbarian—no BS, always straightforward.

What historical figure you most identify with? Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space. What an adventure it must have been.

Who are your heroes in real life? Every goodhearted person.

What are your favorite names? Marc and Helen.

What is it that you most dislike? That we mess up the future for our children.

What is your greatest regret? That I never tried to go for the overall classification in the Tour de France.

How would you like to die? At the age of 100 in my sleep.

What is your motto? Shut up legs! It may be a cycling thing, but it basically means “mind over matter.”