I was sitting in my new favorite greasy spoon – Heidis Pies on El Camino Real in San Mateo – when Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” came on the radio. As I was half-listen while reading the latest issue of Road Bike Action magazine, I could hear the cowbell in my head. Only, the cowbell isn’t really there – at not least as much as I heard it. The cowbell had been engrained in my subconscious so much that I actually thought I was hearing it.
I’m referring, of course, to the Christopher Walken skit done on Saturday Night Live featuring that song. That particular skit has become so iconic that most folks from my generation will know exactly what you are talking about if you mention “I gotta have more cowbell!”
(Yes – this will eventually have something to do with cycling)
That got me to thinking about how somethings just get stuck in the collective psyche – become memes. “I gotta have more cowbell” sure falls into that category. Then my mind immediately jumped to Jens Voigt. It seems that every time he opens his mouth it is as if he is saying “I gotta have more cowbell!” The guy can’t seem to speak without being quotable. What cyclist hasn’t heard “Shut up Legs!“ Jens himself talked (very humbly) about this very phenomenon himself in a recent blog post.
I started wonder why Jens seems to have gained this particular social standing in cycling. It occurred to me that Jens seems to just ride his bike. Sure, all pro cyclists do that. But for some it seems almost as if “pro” is more important than “cyclist” in that label. Obviously all of these guys are doing this to make a living. Somehow Jens – and others like him – seem to live outside of this celebrity-pro-cyclist persona. Again, quoting Jens himself:
I was just being myself. Maybe that appeals to cycling fans, too. People see what they get with me and they get what they see. I don’t have brilliant earrings. I don’t have tattoos. I don’t have a Porsche or Ferrari in my garage. (And let’s not forget my funny German accent–that helps as well!)
Contrast that with someone like Lance Armstrong. Lance has very much focused on the celebrity – the public persona. Don’t get me wrong, I think that was the right thing for him to do. He is one of the rare folks that has been able to harness that persona and channel it to benefit the world via the Livestrong foundation. However, it is a very different approach to cycling. Lance seems to utilize cycling as a tool – a means to an end. Jens – well, he just seems to be out riding his bike and happens to collect a pay check for doing it.
There is one other guy I can think of in the pro peloton that seems to convey that attitude – Chris Horner. Both men are straight forward, personable and seem like the guy next door – no matter how many cameras are in their faces. It is probably no coincidence that they also happen to be two of my favorite riders.
It is folks like Horner and Voigt that keep cycling alive. Despite all the drama and turmoil that we currently find our sport in, these guys seem to be outside the nonsense. They help bring me full circle, demonstrating that in the world of pro cycling I gotta have more cowbell!