I’ve never really been fast. Most of what I achieved (which in the real world is f–k all) I did with grit, determination, fitness and what I like to call blind luck. I’ve won races on bikes with engines but that was so long ago that unless I actually go up in the loft (which is usually an annual visit at Christmas) and stub my left big toe on a box full of trophies I would have trouble remembering what I’ve done with my spare time over the last 30 odd years. I have risked life and limb, broken nearly everyone bone in my body (no bullshit) trying to get a hold on the cheap plastic ornaments. Crazy but true.
My amateur race career is what most money expenditure experts would call ‘financial suicide’. It simply doesn’t add up really. I’ve probably spent at least 5.4 zillion pounds trying to win the f–kin’ things, only to end up with a box full of plastic and metal that probably has a scrap value of about 55 quid. At the time the ornaments in question seemed the be all and end all. In reality, the cobweb covered pieces of plastic are of so little importance that they are piled up on top of each other, in a box, in the roof of a house in suburban middle England. So all in all not a great career, but it’s the best I could do with my limited talent.
My biggest regret (apart from not getting anywhere near to ‘making’ it as a pro when I was in my prime) is never winning a veteran’s (vets) race. That’s not exactly true, but once I became too old to win anything grander you have a tendency to juggle your regrets around to suit yourself.
I love the world of vet bicycle racing. I don’t really know why. Perhaps in the real world of responsibility vet racing is a way of re-living your youth. Or maybe it’s because at a time of life when most bicycle racers should be put out to pasture us ‘oldens’ are still hard at it. It has saved thousands of 40 plus racers from getting into the world of weekend DIY, evolving into weekend car washers or at worst turning their garages into storage space for their wives pottery barn collections.
Vet racing is popular. In fact you could say that over the last few years it has exploded, which from an industry point of view is great news. The vet racers of this world are more than likely to have a few more dollars in their pocket (whether it be savings from the 20 years of doing the daily grind or an inheritance from a great aunt that they didn’t really know existed) and because of their age (and the realisation that they haven’t really got a huge amount of time left as a racer), they are not afraid to spend it.
Vet racing is competitive. After racing all bike disciplines (apart from indoor track) I can tell you up front that I’ll never win a vet race. This doesn’t make me angry. The guys that beat me deserve to beat me. They are simply faster, fitter or better on a bike. Plus I’m a creature of habit and let’s face it I’m a lot more familiar with losing bike races than I am at winning them. I don’t lose sleep over the fact I’m getting my ass handed to me every time I leave the start line. The greatest race (no matter where you finish) is when you battle tooth and nail with an opponent right to the finish (or in the case of a lot of MTB races, against the clock). I’m proud to have shared the same hillside with the greats of the world of bike racing even if they were stepping onto the podium whilst I still had another half a lap to go.
It should be noted that I never expected to feel younger or get faster the longer I raced. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I have mediocre athletic ability and that I am no longer wild and carefree. If you’re wild and young now, there will come a day when you won’t be. However, I still feel good on a bike. I still race as hard as my depreciating bodily functions allow me to, I still take the odd chance now and then and I still fight for my place on the results board. Some days are good, some days are bad and some days leave me lost for mother f–kin’ bastardinhell words.
However racing has, and always will be, about the camaraderie. The car share to a cyclocross race with my mate big Dave, whilst, on the journey there and back we both pull apart the whole idea of sending our kids to a Roman Catholic school or how our wives have busted our balls all week regarding the amount of training we’ve been doing only for them (the wives) to point out, with a smug look on their faces, that they ‘think’ we were slightly better than mid pack.
There is something special about hanging out with a group of like–minded individuals that share the same passion. They speak the language of bicycle racing. Better still their knowledge, experiences and culture are in sync with my own. We have a collective consciousness of all the legends of our sport. The fact that we are now vets is we have lived through the eras of 8–track stereos, to video players, to the ghetto blaster, from Adam Ant, to mobile phones that were the same size as a breeze block, to disused fax machines to email, through to the demise of ‘real’ magazines to the (let’s face it nowhere near as cool) online magazines, and dare I say it, the electric mountain bike.
We race because we love it. It’s what we did when we were young and although sometimes we think we should retire the thought of pottery barn collections in the garage, Catholic Church on a Sunday morning or becoming proficient in the art of lawn mowing and yard maintenance keeps us racing.
But the best part of vet racing is after we’ve all limped back to the car after the event has finished, we then need help getting out of our chosen mode of transport when we arrive home.
WANTED- used Zimmer frame or walking stick (as long as the sticks come as a pair).
Keep at it…
It’s 1981. The space shuttle left US soil heading for your anus. There was a royal wedding and Specialized launched their first ever version of the award winning Stumpjumper. In the same year myself (above on the green bike) and my brother Rob (on the yellow bike) developed an obsession for all things with two wheels. Thirty odd years later I’m still as obsessed, but just a little less ginger and now have knees that creak.