Ninety-two times the Frenchman raced around the velodrome, a curved indoor bicyclist track, at an average speed of 14 mph.
That speed would be impressive for just about anyone on two wheels, but it was probably particularly satisfying for Robert Marchand. Mostly because, when he was young, one of his coaches told him to give up the sport, according to the Associated Press.
It’s even more impressive when one considers Marchand is 105 years old.
As the clock signaled that he’d been riding for one hour, the crowd of hundreds in Le Vélodrome National de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, near Paris, chanted his name, but it’s likely no one wondered whether he had captured a new world record.
Of course he had — the category was created by the International Cycling Union specifically for him. And now it has been set: the record for longest official distance ridden in an hour in the newly minted older-than-105 class is 22.5 kilometers (14 miles).
“I’m now waiting for a rival,” Marchand told the AP.
The cyclist has been breaking (well, creating) such records since 2012, when he set the same record in the older-than-100 category, according to the Guardian. Two years later, he did it again, this time in the older-than-102 category. That time, he cycled for 16.7 miles.
Before Wednesday’s spin, Marchand had warned that he was not going to be as fast this time, telling Agence France-Presse, “I’m not in such good shape as I was a couple of years back.”
Still, he said he could have gone faster, if he had not run into a little trouble on the track.
“I did not see the sign warning me I had 10 minutes left,” he told the Guardian. “Otherwise I would have gone faster, I would have posted a better time.”
His physiologist, Veronique Billat, blamed his recent dietary choices — a newfound vegetarianism.
“He could have been faster but he made a big mistake. He has stopped eating meat over the past month after being shocked by recent reports on how animals are subjected to cruel treatment,” she told the Associated Press. “He’s got two essential qualities. A big heart that pumps a lot of blood, and he can reach high heart beat values that are exceptional for his age. If he starts eating meat again and builds more muscle, he can better this mark.”
Marchand was born on Nov. 26, 1911, in the French town of Amiens.
As the world changed drastically — two world wars, television, computers, the Internet — Marchand lived across the world, working in various jobs. At one point, he served as a firefighter. He drove trucks and planted sugar cane in Venezuela the 1940s. Later, he worked as a lumberjack in Canada.
He always took care of himself, though, telling the BBC that he consistently ate his fruits and veggies and mostly avoided splurging on meat and coffee. Occasionally, he would indulge in a glass of wine, and he never took up smoking. In addition, he spent at least an hour each day on the stationary bike he keeps in his home.
“He never pushed his limits, goes to bed at 9 p.m. and wakes up at 6 a.m., there’s no other secret,” his coach Gerard Mistler told the AP. “If had been doping, he would not be there anymore.”
Astonishingly, he almost did not took up the sport. Marchand isn’t a large man — he stands at 5 feet and weighs 115 pounds — and he met resistance early on, when he began attempting the sport.
“If the president of his teenage club who told him he was not made for cycling because he was too small could see him today, he would kick himself,” Mistler said.
And if Marchand had listened to him, he probably would be kicking himself, too. Eventually, while working odd jobs in 1960s France, he was forced to give the sport up for a bit — but he picked it right back up at age 68 and has been riding ever since. And he could not be happier that he did.
Because, as he told the BBC, though the record might be nice, being able to ride as a centenarian is far nicer.
“I am not here to be champion,” he said. “I am here to prove that at 105 years old, you can still ride a bike.”
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