by Ian Cleverly, photos courtesy of the late, great Bernard Thompson
It seems that half the over-40’s I speak to have knocked road racing on the head for one reason or another, but mostly because of inexorably declining turn of speed. It’s no fun when the top-end slips away and you find yourself hanging on instead of animating the race. Keen young things go flying by and hare off on the climbs while we older gentleman gasp and wheeze, desperately trying to cling to their wheels. And there is little chance of matters improving. The only way is down.
There are exceptions, of course: those super-vets who always had it and, seemingly, always will. Malcolm Elliott springs to mind. He will be 96 this year, give or take, and still dishes it out to the young ‘uns. But those of us starting from a lower level quietly slip out the back of the bunch, wondering why we do it.
Being a cyclo-cross rider first and foremost, road racing gradually took a back seat over the last few years. Last year somehow passed by without a single bunch race on the open road – a sad state of affairs, and a slippery slope. Once you are out of the habit, getting back in is so much harder.
But my newly-expanded team are keen as mustard and a group of guys the wrong side of 40 want to tear it up in the local LVRC (League of Veteran Racing Cyclists) events. I took the plunge, renewed my dormant membership and headed down to Surrey for a 50-miler, expecting the worst.
Seeing the hill on the way to the HQ and remembering my previous ignominious debut on this course did not boost the confidence levels. Falling out the back on the opening lap was a salutary lesson that old timers can still be pretty nippy.
It turned out I fretting unnecessarily. Sure, the pace was pretty high while the top boys sorted themselves out and a break formed. But once they were clear, the bunch settled down and got on with racing at a manageable speed.
The road surface was littered with pot holes, but every one was pointed out by a preceding rider. Each junction had at least three marshals in place to smooth our passage. There was no kamikaze diving round blind bends on the wrong side of the road; no precarious bike handling; no shouting and swearing; no jittery, twitchy riding whatsoever. Just a bunch of blokes racing hard in the Surrey lanes.
So stop making excuses and get stuck in. You can even race with an older age group until you’ve found your legs again, which is jolly reasonable. There are some extremely fit old timers out there but also plenty of not-so-fit guys, just enjoying racing for the sake of it. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?