I was recently scrolling through my Facebook feed when a race photo of Davide Rebellin popped up. Under the picture were a bunch of comments stating that despite the fact he is turning 46 later this year, he was still going strong ‘for his age’ with no signs of slowing down. This sparked some debate amongst my teammates and me.
According to those comments, many people believe it is time for him to hang up the bike, which led to the question---what is the best age for racing? What I found out is that many believe the peak is in the early 30’s and then it is all downhill from there.
And here I stand at 35 years old…..
Quickly attention turned to me. I am the oldest rider on Team Novo Nordisk, which has promoted the youngest rider on the team to nickname me ‘Grandpa Williams.’
I like to think that I am not on that inevitable ‘downhill run.’
Over the last few years, I haven’t noticed that racing has become harder due to my age or that it inhibits me from competing in any way. Even when I was younger and racing locally in Australia, the 35+ or Masters category was often faster than the Elite riders. We would put it down to the fact that they often had the best equipment but at the end of the day, age did not slow them down.
There are a few differences I have noticed after this many years on the bike. For starters, these days I need a good warm up. In the past, I used to jump on my bike and go straight into a full gas effort without any warm up at all. I could attack from the start line without any hesitation and go from 0 to 100% was no problem. Nowadays, I need to warm up before I can turn the pedals in anger and if I don’t, my legs feel terrible.
People always told me that as you get older, it gets much harder to lose weight. I haven’t found this to be true. It’s not more difficult to lose weight, but it sure is easier to put it on! When I was at university, I lived on a diet that was pretty much made up of bread, pasta, and noodles and my weight barely changed. If I tried to do that now, my weight would blow out pretty quickly.
When I first started cycling, I was at university and weekends were a mixture of going out with friends and racing my bike. I would often be out until the early hours of the morning and after only a couple hours of sleep; I could head out to race my bike without a second thought. These days, if I don’t get a good night’s sleep, then I struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Long gone are the late nights and I’m often in bed before most people here in Spain head out for dinner.
My posture is not what it used to be. My wife quite often makes comments about how poor my posture has become. As I type this, I am sitting at my laptop in a position more accustomed to riding a time trial than working at a desk. I tell my wife that I am just more ‘aerodynamic,’ but she thinks I am going to become a hunchback in my old age. Spending hours on end on my bike has resulted in it becoming the more comfortable position.
I feel a day off the bike more than I used to. If I have to choose between a recovery day off the bike or a short, easy ride, then I will definitely take the ride. If I don’t, I feel much worse and seem to notice the aches and pains a little more. I feel much better if I keep moving and do some active recovery. I have never been a firm believer in the benefits of stretching, but I am also beginning to come around on the topic.
When I was younger, I would ride no matter what. If I felt tired, sore or on the verge of getting sick, I would still get out and ride. This often ended in fatigue or coming down with an illness that required days of rest. These days, I know my body better and recognize when I need to take it easy and rest. This has become very important as I have witnessed many of my younger teammates go through periods of fatigue and injury due to trying to push their bodies too far and refusing to rest when necessary.
My days of being young and invincible may be behind me but with age comes wisdom and I like to think that has far more benefits. I live by the adage that you are only as young as you feel and for now, I still feel great when I am out on the bike. Davide Rebellin has 10 years on me and is still going strong. At his age, I can only hope to be half as fit as he is.
Chris Williams rides for Team Novo Nordisk - the world's first all-diabetes professional cycling team