Never too late: ‘My neck is still sore, but I managed to get that world record’

Like the vast majority of males in Australia, during my adult life I’d have a bike in the shed, which would come out once in a blue moon when you take the kids for a ride around the lake. I’d have to pump the tyres up every time I’d want to go for a ride with the kids because it would have been some months since the last one. I didn’t watch the Tour de France or anything like that.

So when a friend invited me to join his little Sunday cycling group when I was 49, it was really new. I just took to it. I really enjoyed going fast. I went out and bought a jazzy bike, and then almost immediately I discovered there was such a thing as racing through the bush on a bike, so I went back to the bike shop and bought a mountain bike. I was rapt in doing it. I loved it. There was almost no time when it was a comfortable Sunday sport. Within literally a few weeks of starting those Sunday rides, I was trying to drive my little group to go faster.

Within months, I started competing. In my first race, I placed second. I rang home excited and said to my son, who was about 16 at the time, “Eddie, it’s Dad. I’m up the Blue Mountains. I’ve just been in this race and I’ve come second!” And he replied: “Dad, no one remembers second.” So I think that scarred me. I decided then that I wasn’t going to have too many seconds.

They call it the race of truth. It’s the ultimate test
I went back the following few years and made sure I won that race.

My main pursuit was mountain biking and long distance cross-country. Almost instantly I dominated my age category and got over 100 podiums over the course of around seven years, most of which were top of the podium. But towards the end of my 50s I found myself dropping off the podium as younger guys were coming through, so I started moving towards road racing.

I didn’t enjoy so much success immediately. It’s another craft you have to learn, but I started getting better and better and winning some more. It culminated in 2018 in going over to Europe and winning two world championships – one in Austria and one in Italy. When I came back to Australia, after those championships and a few other wins, Cycling Australia named me Male Masters Road Cyclist of the Year.

In February of 2020, having done a series of races I was probably the fittest I’ve ever been and I found myself with a few weeks spare. I thought, what am I going to do? So I decided to have a tilt at the world hour record.

That world hour record was incredibly hard. Time trialling is so hard. You just don’t get any rest. You’re on your threshold for the entire race. You’re maxing out everything. I’m just gasping for breath – and that’s the whole race. Whereas, in a road race, you can sit on someone else’s wheel being drafted, you can’t get a break in a time trial. They call it the race of truth. It’s the ultimate test.

I didn’t see it coming. I don’t recall ever thinking ‘What sport will I do in retirement?’
My neck is still sore from being cricked in a funny position. But I managed to get that world record, and last December [2019] I won the Australian time trial for my age category, so that was pretty cool.

I’ve always been very competitive in everything I’ve done. But until cycling I didn’t do any sporting competition. I played a bit of tennis and a bit of squash, but it was social. I always played to win, but I never played in competitions or anything.

I’d spent a lot of those middle years raising three kids, working in environmental science and then in real estate. My interests were in the outdoors, it wasn’t athletic. I had little kids and I ran around with them.

There were a few years of overlap between training, racing and working full-time. It was pretty demanding. I’d have to be up sparrow fart. I live on the edge of the bush in northern Sydney, so it wasn’t too far to find some bush trails to ride for mountain biking. I’d ride really flat-out for an hour, an hour-and-a-half, and then go to work. I’d probably be doing 12 hours a week hard training. At the Australian Championships, I was averaging about ten hours of hard training a week.

Physiologically, I’m sort of predisposed to going well – my testosterone levels and VO2 max are both naturally very high. Combine that with a natural competitive drive, and a willingness to get out and train hard on my own, and I suppose that’s why I’ve managed to be so successful. It does amaze me, though. I didn’t see it coming. I don’t recall ever thinking ‘What sport will I do in retirement?’

I’m now 67. It’s not that long ago that that was the life expectancy of Australian males. Everybody should have a form of strong aerobic exercise, particularly when you’re trying to prolong the tail end of life. But it’s not going to work unless you love doing it.