Once, when I was particularly young and especially ignorant, I interviewed a member of a very famous wine-making family.
Although said interview was all about wine, the conversation unveiled that she had taken up cycling in her mid-late 30s. It transpired that she was an exceptionally talented cyclist, and went to represent her country in a Master’s category race.
“Wow,” I gushed, genuinely impressed (and not even remotely aware that I was about to place my foot firmly into my mouth). “That is so impressive! And to have discovered this talent and passion so late in life, it’s amazing.”
Oh gosh – I really did say that, didn’t I?
To her credit, she didn’t put me back in my box where she rightfully should have. Now in my early 40s, having also discovered cycling ‘later’ in life, thinking back to this interview and my foolishness makes me cringe. Evidently I see 40 as the new 20, and feel that way (largely thanks to the bike). It’s why an organisation like the League of Veteran Racing Cyclists strikes me as so necessary not only in our sport, but as a cultural stance and commentary. We adults of the 40+ age group are far, far from over our used-by date. On the contrary, you only need to ride with a bunch of strong and sound 60+ year olds to make you realise we’re staying fitter, healthier, stronger and more active for longer and longer.
Moreover, aging and the desire to compete are not mutually exclusive.
A group of cyclists including Percy Stallard and Eddie Cook cottoned onto this fact more than two decades ago, and recognised with frustration the limited outlets available to anyone aged Masters and beyond to race alongside their peers. As any member of the League will attest, there’s plenty of racing left in legs aged 40 and beyond, but pitting these age-groups alongside athletes half their age just doesn’t compare apples with apples.
So the League was formed, an all-inclusive group of 40 year old+ male and female cyclists around the UK who race in members-only events country-wide.
Non-executive Chairman (who held the title of Chair for the last decade) Don Parry, himself a multiple National Age Group Champion, provides some of the basic need-to-know information.
“There’s currently a programme of some 300 events in which members can race. The lion’s share would be open road cycling events but certainly there are some very substantial track races in the Derby and Newport Velodromes, as well as cyclocross during the CX season. Participant numbers are dependent on the location, the style of riding, and other factors but typically they’d sit at around 50-60 riders. We cap our actual membership each year to 2,000,” he explains.
“We race in increments of five years, as per UCI protocol, but obviously we start at 40. Membership is exceptionally well-priced at £25 per annum, which includes racing insurance. You can then expect to pay within the vicinity of £15 per event. This amount goes straight back into the hard costs incurred to roll out events of this calibre,” confirms Don.
“In a nutshell however, each of our regions is tasked to implement a suite of races and certain members will step up to take on the responsibility of management,” says Don.
Whereas once the League was largely comprised of ‘pointy-end’, serious cyclists who wanted to maintain an exemplary standard of racing as they transitioned into more mature age categories, today’s League is a lot more inclusive. Indeed, the League is a microcosm of cycling culture in the UK as a whole.
Once it was reserved for the serious and elite, and now it’s embraced by all levels of skill and talent. It’s become more about the passion and culture of the sport and racing, than it has the desire to take out the top of the podium.
“We don’t just race together in League events,” explains Don. “We naturally gravitate to other members for social rides so there’s a community feel that pervades across the organisation. And it’s great to see how this filters into other areas. For instance, bike stores such as my local Corley Cycles are incredibly supportive of us Veteran racers. I’m looked after very well indeed by the team in there, as are my fellow local racers Roy Chamberlain, Andy Lowe (both of whom race a Trek Madone) and Nick Corbett (who races an AX Vial). Stores like Corley are helping us achieve, and they realise full well age is not a limiting factor,” said Don.
“Once upon a time when you got to a certain age, your cycling options were limited to non-existent. Thanks to the League of Racing Veteran Cyclists in some ways you could argue it’s just the beginning.”
Now I’m in my 40s I certainly see it that way, and hope organisations such as the League convincingly show that age is irrelevant.