A 100-year-old cyclist from France has set a new age group world record for The Hour an incredible 86 years after his first competitive race.
Robert Marchand, who lives in Mitry-Mory near Paris, had to enter that debut race under an assumed name because he was too young to compete.
Today, at the track at the World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Aigle, he rode 24.251 kilometres in the allotted time, and explained, “I’m not playing at being a champion. I just wanted to do something for my 100th birthday,” reports the UCI. The previous record distance was not revealed.
Marchand, who celebrated his 100th birthday on 26 November – the Titanic was still being fitted out in Belfast when he was born, and the First World War was yet to come – made his world record attempt following a request by Gérard Mistler, Président of the Ardéchoise Cyclo-Promotion – the centenerian is a perennial entrant to the cyclosportive, launched in 1992 when he was a sprightly 79 years of age.
“I think he is a human example of the benefits of cycling,” commented Mistler. “The fact that this record is established at the WCC, headquarters of the International Cycling Union, is truly symbolic.”
Marchand admitted that he was a bit rusty when it came to track cycling, and spent four days this week familiarising himself with the venue before his successful record attempt today.
“I haven’t cycled on a track for 80 years,” he revealed. “You have to get used to the fixed gear! I prefer cycling outside but that is impossible at the moment.”
Snow in Switzerland also meant that he had to keep an eye on his health. “I don’t want to catch the flu. So I am short on training,” he explained.
The cyclist was coached by 40-year-old Magali Humbert, former World Juniors Champion and a multiple French national track champion on the track.
“The track is small. You just turn round and round,” Marchand said earlier this week. “I could keep going for another hour. I’ve been told not to raise my pulse too high so I’m not even tired.”
He added that he tries to follow doctors’ orders not to let his pulse go over 110, but said that isn’t always possible.
“I did climb a steep hill not long ago and went up to 134 but it’s best to avoid that,” he revealed. “But I would be very surprised if I had heart attack,” he continued, revealing that in the build-up to the record attempt he had undergone a cardiograph for the first time in his life. It showed his heart was in great shape.
“For the last five years I have decided not to go for rides of more than 100km,” he went on, adding with supreme understatement, “There is no point going overboard. I want to keep cycling for some time yet.”
His exploits have led to a mountain pass being named after him in the Ardèche, the Col Robert Marchand, which not by coincedence has an elevation of 911 metres – the last three digits of his year of birth.
Asked what his secret is, Marchand, whose former jobs included being gym instructor to the Paris fire department plus three years as a lumberjack in Canada, explained: “I’ve never abused anything. I don’t smoke, I never drank much. The only thing I did in excess was work. I retired at 89 years old!”
Cycling wasn’t the only sport he turned his hand – in the past, he was a boxer, gymnast and weightlifter. Of the latter, Marchand said, “I was good. I could have been a champion.
“But basically,” he concluded, “I am like everybody. I am lucky that I haven’t had any major health problems. My advice to anyone, young or old, is to keep moving. I do ‘physical culture’ every day. It works out my whole body and keeps me supple. Some people when they reach 80 years old, start playing cards and they stay immobile. Not me. I’ve never been able to keep still…”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.