Join a cycling club
After a bit of psyching up, Quentin Frayne entered the fray of veterans racing.
Bike racing? That’s for super-fit, super-fast young guns with thighs like sides of lamb, isn’t it? It’s riding in enormous packs at breakneck speed into those spectacularly dangerous bunch sprints we see on telly at Tour de France time. It’s victory salutes, high glamour and the odd drug scandal, right? Well … yes, there is a bit of that out there, but that’s pretty much the domain of the professional road cyclist. There’s also another world of road racing on offer, one better suited to we lesser mortals and, in particular, those of us who are … shall we say … more mature in years. Welcome to veteran’s racing.
I can vividly remember my first taste of racing. I was 40 and had been doing a little riding through commutes to uni as a mature-age student, a few weekend country jaunts with friends and the odd ‘epic’ like the Around the Bay in a Day.
One day I met an amiable, fit-looking, but decidedly greying fellow in a bike shop who mentioned that he raced his bike. “Wow, you must be pretty handy to be able to race!” was my comment. He assured me that vet’s racing offers grades for all abilities (veteran’s racing is open to women 30+ and men 35+), and suggested I come out the following Saturday to a criterium (short-circuit road race) for a no-obligation try-out with Eastern Veterans Cycling Club.
Once I’d decided to take the plunge, the preceding days were all nerves and doubts. The big day arrived and I headed out to the circuit, the little voice inside my head chiming away with “What are you doing, you fool? You can’t race a bike! You’ve never even so much as seen a road race! You’re going to get hammered!” The tension eased a little when I was warmly greeted by the chaps taking entries, who ‘graded’ me after a brief look at my skinny, hairy legs and declared, “Reckon we’ll put you in E grade and see how you go, eh.”
It was a bit of a novel format on this particular day, with the regular Graded Scratch Race to be held after a short Elimination Race, where the last few riders past the line each lap are eliminated until the bunch is reduced to just three, then two, then one: the winner.
We were called to the line and after a few words on keeping it safe, we were away. The sense of excitement and anticipation was incredible and my heart was racing before I’d even turned a pedal stroke. How fast do racers ride? How do I keep from being last? Where should I position myself in the pack? With each passing lap, the inevitable surge and rush of speed to the line was accompanied by a chorus of whizzing chains and whirring wheels, adding to the already highly charged atmosphere. The tension rose as each time around I managed to avoid the dreaded tail end. The numbers dwindled and to my amazement it finally came down to just me and one other rider – one-on-one, yikes, my first ever race and I’m battling it out for the gold medal! Line it up and give it your all … I’ve done it! I’ve won! What a buzz!
Regardless of where I’d come in that first race, I was hooked. The fellow I beat for the win was 72, over 30 years my senior. I did it all in the small chainring, simply because I didn’t have a clue how else it should be done. Our maximum speed was probably not much higher than Lance’s average over the entire 3500km of the Tour de France, but to me, and to everyone else competing that day, this was fast, thrilling, competitive – and infectious – bike racing. Best of all, it happened in a friendly, non-threatening atmosphere, where novices and old-hands, men and women, are welcomed, supported and encouraged. This perception is almost universal among newcomers, as is the addictive nature of strapping on a number and getting out there, irrespective of age, ability or gender.
I went on to learn the ins and outs of road racing in its many guises: fast, furious criteriums; long, challenging country road courses; handicaps; hillclimbs; and time trials. I even rose through the ranks to A grade and discovered just how fast old codgers can really go. What I uncovered that day set me on a course that has continued through nearly a decade and a half, not only of racing, but riding of every kind – touring, commuting, mountain biking and generally just loving being on a bike. It’s not a unique experience either. It’s an obsession that sometimes drives our other halves batty, but what better ticket can you get to enjoyment, health, fitness and vitality in your advancing years?
Search Cycling Australia to find a club near you.
This post was for day 23 of Ride On‘s June riding challenge.