Do cyclists improve with age?
I was born into a family of few sporting traditions. Apart from an uncle (who died in WW2) who had been a notable amateur footballer and an uncle in Ireland who had played hurling for Tipperary in the all-Ireland final in 1937, I had few role-models to follow. But my youth was dominated by sport, especially in my teens: football, cricket, tennis, ice-skating and cycling. In my 20s, these gave way to more racquet sports, principally squash and badminton until, one day, tired of pulling muscles, wrenching my back and twisting ligaments, I sought professional advice about which sports were the most injury-free. The two options I was given were: swimming and cycling. It was at that point, in my late 20s, that I took up cycling as a serious sport and (as the saying goes) have never looked back since.
But what I never considered at the time was the longevity of any particular sport in a person’s life. I know we can all pick out someone who might still be playing football, tennis or badminton in their 70s or 80s. Some may even continue aggressive contact sports like rugby into their later years, but the numbers are very low. If you look, however, at the growing number of people who continue enjoying (or even take up) non-contact sports in their later years, you will find that sports like running, swimming and cycling are going through a boom period. If you were to draw a graph of these athletes’ lives, when are they likely to peak at their sport and to what age could they reasonably expect to continue?
I see people in the world of competitive cycling breaking all kinds of records at ages when they really should be wearing slippers and smoking pipes. I cycle in the same club as the legendary 87 year old Bill Duffin who, in 2011, broke the national 10 mile time trial for his age group. He completed the distance in 28m 23secs, at an average speed of 21.15 mph……very good by anyone’s standards. Another octogenarian and cycling companion, Peter Etheridge, has broken 13 bones in his body in separate cycling incidents and is still able to put in very respectable mileages at a good brisk pace. Then I received this cutting from one of my brothers, telling me that Arthur Gilbert is still competing in triathlons at the age of 90. Is there no limit? Apparently not!