Cycling heroes: My top three

Everybody has their idols.

I’ve never been the *starstruck* type. On the rare occasions I’ve had the opportunity to meet or talk to famous people  – I’ve always tried to be pretty ‘normal’.

My logic behind this is that I figure household names must get a lot of startstruck people gawping at them, and it must all get quite tiring. Next you’re going to tell me everybody has that thought process, and they think it’s odd how ‘normal’ we all try to be…

Regardless, there are just a few cycling heroes I’m fairly certain I just could never act normal around, because I’m utterly in awe or them. Not necessary for their cycling prowess, but also for their insight, integrity or in some cases more on merit of their writing ability than what happens when they push the pedals.

Here are my top 3 cycling inspirations:

1)  Beryl Burton

Unfortunately I will never have the opportunity to test my ‘normalness’ guise with Beryl Burton, because she died in 1996 – that’s a good 14 years before I even got my first bike as an adult, yet she still holds the women’s 100 mile TT record. Despite all our modern technology, no woman has yet beaten what Burton could do on a bike like this:

beryl-burton-

Burton holds a list of records so long I couldn’t repeat them all here, but to name a few ,she was the World Road Race Champion twice, and on the track World Pursuit Champion five times. On top of that, she won the Road Time Trial British Best All Rounder (BBAR) in 25 consecutive years. In 1967, Beryl set a 12-hour time trial record of 277.25miles that couldn’t be beaten by any man for another two years.

Now, I know it’s a well repeated story, but for the benefit of those not yet initiated into the Burton world, here’s the most famous tale of her time:

It was in the Otley CC 12 (hour) where Burton caught Mike McNamara – a man who himself was on the way to achieving a new men’s record. Not only did Burton beat his ‘record’ by 0.73 miles, as she passed him, she offered him a liquorice allsort, our of sympathy, later saying: :“Poor Mac… his glory, richly deserved, was going to be overshadowed by a woman.”

Beryl died one week before her 59th birthday, delivering invites by bike, when she collapsed – but she lived those 58 years to the full.

2)  Graeme Obree

Obree isn’t just a cycling inspiration, he’s an engineering extraordinaire, and one of the best examples of thinking outside the box that I’ve seen.

220pxGraeme_obree

Obree’s most revered achievement was his claiming of the World Hour record, which he did in both 1993 and 1994, amid a headed battle with Chris Boardman – Boardman claiming the title one week after Obree, only for the whole process to be repeated.

Obree’s 1993 hour record was won the day after his first attempt. After one hour of the most intense effort I can ever imagine, he failed by around 1km.

Where the vast majority of people would have cried a tear, thrown the bike from the velodrome and tried again another year, Obree tried again the next day – keeping his muscles from seizing by drinking a pint of water each hour to ensure he would wake up to stretch. The next day, he finished the job, on Old Faithful, a bike he engineered with the parts of a washing machine.

In Obree’s book, The Flying Scotsman, he tells the tale of a time trial where he felt so depleted, so lacking in energy, he almost slashed his own tyres to mimic a puncture. Thankfully, he never did slash those tyres – and he smashed the race with flying colours. That story has kept me going on many an event where I just wanted to stop turning the pedals.

A beautiful story teller, his writing has somewhat of an unusual character, and I took great joy in reviewing his training guide,The Obree Way.

On top of his battle with the track, Obree has spent his life battling bipolar disorder, and he almost lost three times through suicide attempts. Thankfully, he failed every time and is still with us.

3)  Marianne Vos

Is there anything Marianne Vos can’t win? As a junior a master on the mountain bike, Vos now dominates the cyclocross and road scene, whilst being a National Time Trial Champ and holding various National Track titles. In fact, I’m pretty sure Vos has more World Champion jerseys than I’ve got plain old normal jersey’s (a lot more, in fact).

marianne_vos_lizzie_armitstead_copyright_tim_de_waele_3

(Image: Tim DeWaele)

Earning herself the nickname ‘cannibal’ on the bike, a throwback to Eddie Merckx, Vos has been called ‘the finest cyclist of her generation’.

What I love about Vos is that despite her ‘cannibalistic’ desire, and ability, to chew up the competition and dominate repeatedly, she seems above all to just adore the ride.

On Twitter, Vos calls herself a “fulltime-hobby-cyclist” and it’s clear from the way she flits from CX to road, and her recent venture back into MTB that she just loves to be on a bike.

Not only does Vos appear to love her own bike, she passionately wants to see more of us experience the joy of cycling, writing on her website:

“I don’t just dream of Olympic gold,  I dream of more and better opportunities for aspiring cyclist to make cycling more accesible for women. I want to take the best from both the men and women World of cycling and use this to create a stage, a stage from which the dreams of every aspiring cyclist can be launched. Young, old, fellow professionals and future talent.​”

Well said.

Do you have a cycling hero? I’d love to hear who they are…

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