The Good ol’ Days
Keri Williams reflects on his cycling past and how things have changed:
I am now a gentleman of a certain age, (“moaning old git or MOG” is, I believe, the technical term the young ‘uns use for us!) I am also a cyclist who used to “do a bit” back in the day and having been asked a few times now whether it was harder or better back then, well I thought I’d give it some thought and give Roger another blog to post!
I will divide my thoughts into 2 sections, road racing and time trialling, as my views on each are at polar opposites for each discipline.
Firstly then, the love of my life … Road Racing.
Without doubt, I believe racing roadies today have it much harder than I ever did some 30 years ago. Certainly anyone who has recently won a race or who has got enough points and been promoted up the rankings, has nothing but my total respect, as I think they doing it under much harder conditions than I ever did!
Well firstly there are just so many more cyclists than there were back in my day.
More cyclists mean a greater pool of talent to race against, which makes things just that much harder. Also with so many cyclists now wanting to race, it becomes difficult to even get into races these days, which when coupled with the lack of races that the current race calendar seems to offer, just reduces the opportunities to compete, with fewer chances then to do well, to score licence points and so any rider’s chances to rise up the rankings are just becoming more and more limited.
Secondly: Riders have become so much fitter, as training methods have improved hugely.
Most riders these days have a basic working knowledge of training: intervals, thresholds, power output, the importance of resting and even basic race craft… all of which were pretty much unknown concepts to most riders 30 years ago. Today’s racers have become very knowledgeable athletes, who eat sensibly, train cleverly and race both hard and smart … back in the day, training for most of us roadies involved just “getting in the miles”, sprinting for signs or riding a 10 mile tt to get a bit of speed and only very few of us had ever heard of interval training, let alone attempted to put it into practice!
There is also now t’internet as a source of helpful information and there are many, well qualified and knowledgeable coaches out there, available for anyone to use ( for a fee of course! ) but back in the pre decimal days, it was not until I started to get selected for regional and then national teams, that I had access to any coach other than my father…. who to be fair did give us mostly good advice (although I can still remember training in the dark with my brother, accompanied by mad headlight flashing and horn blaring from the car driving behind us, driven of course by my dad, unable to contain himself, as we were not riding quite as quickly as he wanted!)
Thirdly: The 3rd cat races back then, were largely stop / start affairs, fields were made up of a top third or so of riders who were expected to feature in the final sort out, we’d race until the break got away and then, as the rest of the bunch were largely pleased with simply a bunch finish, riders would refuse to work / would not chase and bunches quickly became little more than what we used to call “laughing groups” who would trundle round, quickly enough it was true but not “racing” to the finish.
Listening to modern riders now, I think that even 4th or 3rd cat races go from the gun and continue racing right to the flag, right the way through the field … certainly that is my experience from watching races such as The Star RR anyway.
This results in harder and indeed faster races: Speaking to a Commissaire friend a couple of years ago about Mallory Park events, well they were by then lapping on average, around 5 – 10 seconds a lap quicker than when I used to race there 15 years previously and that’s a huge difference in pace – Something which I found out to my cost on my last great comeback, when I started out expecting to be there or thereabouts at the finish but quickly found myself hanging on to the bunch tail for dear life and, forgive the technical term here, blowing out of my backside!
So all in all you road racers, do NOT let any of us old timers tell you how much harder it was “ back in the day” cos it just simply wasn’t, any success you get now is hard earnt, well deserved and chapeau to you all I say!
Which brings me on to time trialling.
I should perhaps declare an interest here… I do now and indeed, I have always, hated time trials … they just hurt!
Doesn’t matter whether it is a 2 minute hill climb, a shorter 10 or 25 mile race, a team time trial or 12 hour event, I have done them all and they have always made my legs scream, my lungs hurt and my brain ache!
I don’t think they hurt riders any less today than they did 30 years ago but I do believe that it is easier to get faster times than it was back then, so I am afraid that I will conform to MOG stereotype here and have to say… you lot do have it a whole lot easier than we did “back in the day!”
My reasoning for this can be summed up in 2 words “technological advances”!
The first time I broke the hour for a 25 mile time trial I did it on a steel framed bike, with no aero bars, no disc wheel or Darth Vader helmet. I had no bike computer, no idea what wattages were or how they could be useful and to change gear involved taking my hand off the handlebars and using gear shifters situated on the bike down tube. What gears I did have were not many and varied and my feet were attached to my pedals by two bits of leather known as toe straps!
Contrast that to the delights and mod cons of the modern time trialist, couple these techy advances with the fact that you all now race smart as well, to power wattages and the like, add in the fact that you all train so much better and more cleverly than we ever did …..well like I said above, I don’t believe I tried any harder than you guys n gals do today .. I just think you get far better results than we ever did and that of course results in the much, Much. MUCH quicker times that you all now produce… well that is my excuse anyway!
Just to show you all how much quicker you are all going, my solo pb on the 13 tt (old course) is just a few seconds over 31 mins which was quick enough some 15 years ago to get me joint 2nd place … on average now, a 31 min. ride, for a similar event on the new course, would struggle to get me a top 10 finish!
So on balance then would I want to time trial and road race now, rather than the Good ol Days??
NO of course not!
It is so much more fun being an old timer and be able to tell you all about how rough, tough good ol’ boys we were back in the day. Without actually having to do anything or prove it to anyone anymore!
You will all know now of course, that it is also not actually true, like with most things time adds a lovely rosy glow and makes us remember ourselves as being so much quicker and better than we really were, but don’t expect the truth to stop me telling you all about just how good we all used to be when I see you next!
Enjoy your cycling now 😉